Everything Everywhere All at Once is a movie made for everyone that combines science fiction, comedy and drama in a visual spectacle that will certainly leave a lasting impression on viewers.
It's a story about a woman named Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, who owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond, portrayed by Ke Huy Quan. Stephanie Hsu plays their daughter Joy, who comes out to them about her relationship with girlfriend Becky. Meanwhile, the IRS begins investigating their business and the only way to escape is to cross multiple universes. Battling it out with items ranging from glitter bombs to dildos, the family goes on an irreverent adventure that is not only unpredictable but sometimes shocking. The film also co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate and Harry Shum Jr. in memorable supporting roles.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Collectively known as Daniels, they began their career by directing music videos with artists such as Foster the People, Tenacious D. and Lil John. Their first feature film Swiss Army Man was about a romance between a man and a corpse, and starred Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. They won the Directing Award for that film at Sundance Film Festival in 2016.
The duo sat down to discuss their new eye-popping project recently at a downtown Chicago hotel.
Windy City Times: Begin by talking about your background…
Daniel Scheinert: We met in college. I grew up in Alabama. I thought I wanted to be an actor and then a comedian. I landed on filmmaking but brought that perspective to our work.
Dan Kwan: I grew up in Massachusetts. My mom is from Taiwan and my dad is from Hong Kong. I grew up really anxious so I didn't think I would be in the arts because I knew it was a risky endeavor. I thought I would go into business. I hated the business world so much that I decided to risk it all and become a filmmaker!
I leaned more into animation and design as opposed to his improv and theater.
DS: We met and started making visual effects with heavy, strange short films and then music videos. We came up with making short-form content with visual effects that could sell records for a band.
WCT: How would you describe the plot of Everything Everywhere All at Once to people? Isn't that tricky?
DS: It is really easy. [Laughs] It's about someone trying to finish their taxes!
DK: It's about an overwhelmed immigrant mother who is just trying to survive the chaos of modern life. She is pulled into the multiverse. What was overwhelming becomes infinitely more so…
DS: It is a sci-fi, action-comedy where she is trying to reconnect with her family through the noise.
WCT: The film is very diverse with a queer storyline. Where did that come from?
DK: Many of the Chinese characters come from my upbringing and growing up. We have so many friends in the queer community and don't belong in masculine or patriarchal worlds.
When I was growing up, people were convinced I was gay. They would even through slurs at me. I am not comparing myself to a gay person who had to deal with that because there is no comparison, but because of that, I feel comfortable within spaces where people are allowed to express their gender or sexuality in whatever way they want to.
The film was meant to be a gap in a story about generational trauma. I know in the Asian immigrant community one of the biggest wedges between parents and kids is when their kid is queer. This felt like a really special story that we could tell in a way that felt unique.
If you talk to anyone who is a child of an immigrant parent who also happens to be queer it is a unique process of coming out to them. If Asian parents don't like something they will ignore it.
Every single time the daughter has to come out to her mother it is ignored and buried.
Often times queer children of immigrant parents have to come out repeatedly. It almost feels like a slow-motion burial where they are slowly being erased rather than having a big blowout and fighting where they are kicked out. They are forced to exist with parents that don't accept them and constantly have to fight for recognition.
This was such a heartbreaking and nuanced story that we wanted to slam up against this really big cosmic multiverse setting. This was us combining the large stories with the small ones. We wanted to show that the small stories are just as important as the biggest.
WCT: The mother really goes on a journey from being ignorant to a changed woman.
DS: Yes. There was an earlier draft about a closed-minded mom and something didn't work about it. It really opened up when we made it a sympathetic journey about how hard it is to change your mind. When we put ourselves in Evelyn's shoes it was therapeutic to picture our parent's generation trying to communicate with our generation.
DK: Evelyn still has her generation looming over her. That must be difficult and confusing.
DS: My mom grew up on a farm and thought she was progressive as she raised me. I grew up on the Internet so we were very different. We tried to not make the plot obvious about parents that easily accept their kids. It is hard to notice your blind spots and communicate with people who grew up in a different world than you.
WCT: There's even a drag moment in the movie.
DS: I love drag! There is a gender switch where a guy ends up in a salsa dancer's dress.
DK: Daniel is very convincing in drag when he wants to be.
DS: I look a lot like my mom once I shave.
WCT: There are drag pictures of you out there in the world?
DS: Oh yeah!
WCT: Talk about the dildo scenes in this film. Why were images blurred? Was is about movie ratings?
DS: There was a moment where we thought the movie should be PG-13. There were only a couple of things that pushed it over. We thought the generational story was R-rated where they are uncomfortable with some of the things we were exposed to. Some of those things took on a thematic point.
We wanted to provoke the character of Evelyn and what would make her uncomfortable. What would be the most upsetting thing to see her daughter do? Oh, beat a man up with giant dildos!
We didn't want to have things in it just for shock value.
DK: It is representative of us showing our parents our corpse movie…
DS: Or that their son humped things and hundreds of people watched it.
DK: In the Lil John video.
DS: We like poking at taboos, especially ones that are absurd. Why are we so upset about sex? It is how humans work, but so uncomfortable to talk about.
WCT: Was there an idea for the film that was cut, but you still wanted to make it?
DS: There was an idea about a universe where instead of communicating by making sounds, people communicate by making silences. The default would be sound and talking would be silent.
WCT: How has it been watching this film with people and their reactions in a theater?
DS: It has been fun.
DK: We have gone to a couple of screenings and it has been wild. At South by Southwest, it felt like a sporting event. Everyone was screaming and cheering.
We knew when we made this film that it was specifically made for an audience to watch together in a roomful of strangers. We designed it for that. It still blew us away because we are riding this wave of this post lockdown world where everyone is so excited to finally be in the same space again.
Our movie has timed out well at South by Southwest and I don't think we will ever experience a moment like that again!
DS: It is a very emotional movie and watching it with an audience I felt myself tearing up at moments that aren't sad at all. It was so emotional after five and a half years to watch an audience react so strongly and exactly the way we dreamed it. We were so happy to see those moments work and it was so cathartic.
WCT: What was the hardest scene to shoot?
DK: For me, it was when she goes up the stairs and is trying to understand people instead of fighting them. There were a lot of moving parts with fans and tax paperwork moving through the air. It was exhausting to do because fight sequences just take a lot out of everyone.
DS: We love well-executed action scenes. This movie is obviously inspired and influenced by kung fu movies. We were very intimidated while shooting those scenes. We thought that our film would be held up among iconic movies that we had seen in the past.
It was exciting to pay tribute to them, but really hard to shoot an action scene and believe that we could pull it off.
WCT: What would you like audiences to take away from Everything Everywhere All at Once?
DK: We have been thinking about that a lot recently. We want everyone to be seen in the chaos of what they are living in. Everyone is feeling overwhelmed and they don't know how to process it. This movie was our reaction to that feeling.
Based on how people are reacting so far, I feel like they understand it, even though this movie breaks all the conventions and doesn't follow what a movie should be doing. Viewers get it because they have been living it. If they can feel seen and talk about it to each other that would be beautiful. I hope those kinds of conversations start happening.
WCT: Is that why there was so much representation? The idea was to cover a wide range of people in the storyline?
DK: This is a great question because I have felt self-conscious in much of my career that we are maximum artists. Minimum artists are about cutting away and editing down to the essence of something. What happens with that train of thought is that things are cut out. It can marginalize people and push away different stories.
Modern stories should try to include it all. We try to hold everything in before it bursts so we can truly understand each other.
DS: That is our skillset to offer that kind of story.
DK: We want to include as many people as possible. Our world of seven billion people all connected through the Internet really just needs one big group hug. A massive story that can hold it all together is our best bet for that.
WCT: What are you working on next?
DK: We are developing some television projects.
DS: We're going home to visit his son and my nephews. We are really tired…
WCT: How about a sequel to Everything Everywhere All at Once?
DK: Maybe a spiritual sequel. We will see!
Everything Everywhere All at Once transports Chicago audiences to new universes nationwide on Friday, April 8.