If you only see one movie this year, why not make it a movie that is actually every movie: Everything Everywhere All at Once, the new “multiverse” masterpiece from directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels).
Overwhelming, thrilling and impossibly complicated in the best of ways, the epic follows a humble laundromat operator named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) who one day is confronted with the truth that there are an infinite different number of alternate universes – and she alone is responsible for saving them all from an alt-version of her estranged daughter (Stephanie Hsu), who is intent on destroying existence.
A scatological Jackass comedy, a Matrix-y sci-fi thriller, a Wong Kar-wai-flavoured melodrama, a Crouching Tiger-esque martial arts spectacle and an unknown number of other kinds of movies (even, at one point, a Pixar-style kiddie flick), Everything Everywhere represents either the end point of genre cinema or the beginning of something startlingly new. Which is just as the Daniels – whose previous film, 2016′s Swiss Army Man, starred Paul Dano as a Robinson Crusoe-style hero who befriends a rotting, flatulent corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe – intend. Maybe.
A few days after the film’s raucous SXSW Festival premiere, the Daniels spoke with The Globe and Mail about multiverses, madness and making the movie-est movie to ever be movie’d.
Congratulations on the premiere, which from what I heard seems like two years’ worth of pent-up energy unleashed in one theatre.
Daniel Scheinert: It was great, though there were too many applause breaks. I now need my ego to get knocked down a peg.
Dan Kwan: Holding it to open in theatres was 100-per-cent intentional. We took all of our favourite theatrical experiences and tried to combine them into one experience. Watching the movie with an audience – the screaming and groaning and laughing and crying – is like an ocean wave rolling through.
There is so much going on in the film, and you guys juggle so many different timelines and universes, that I can’t quite imagine what the screenplay looks like in written form.
Kwan: You’d be shocked how close the final montages are to the written script. It’s 120 pages and the number of scenes is 10 times that. We cut to this cut to this cut to this cut to this. It took us a long time to write in order to figure out the structure. We had to take apart every version of what people thought a screenplay could be. We knew how dangerous it was and how close it was tipping into insanity. I thought half of the people who watched it would be throwing up in their seats. But so far it’s only been 1 per cent of people.
Scheinert: Luckily the screenplay also scared away anyone who wasn’t down to get weird.
Kwan: We asked our cast to take turns doing crazy things, but we also made a point of embarrassing ourselves on-set, too. This guy [points to Daniel] plays the guy in the closet with the dominatrix. Michelle has to literally slap him on the butt in the middle of the movie. She had so much fun she didn’t want to stop.
Scheinert: It was confusing for me.
Dan Kwan, I know you had an affinity for Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, and then there is your work on the six-minute short film Possibilia, which has a near-infinite number of ways to watch it. Is Everything Everywhere the culmination of this kind of string-theory style of cinema, or the beginning?
Kwan: You’ve articulated something that we’d been trying to figure out for six months, as we’re struggling to decide what to do next. Predictably, we have too many ideas. But our hearts are in two places. I thought we needed to make a small movie after this, a rom-com love triangle thing. Before this movie came out, I thought this would be the end point. But as we talk this morning, everything is pushing toward this being the continuation of our style.
Scheinert: We love a good minimalist story. We just can’t do it.
You guys originally wanted Jackie Chan to play the lead, but when Michelle’s name came up, you re-engineered it for her …
Scheinert: We were feeling good as soon as we rewrote it because then we could talk about our moms, their best friends, our aunties. These characters are juicy and fun and why don’t they get to star in action movies? And when we actually met Michelle, we realized she’s weirder than people know. What an honour to show that side of her to the world. We were euphoric leaving that meeting.
Kwan: We thought, “Oh my god, we’re accidental geniuses.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once opens April 1 in Toronto and Vancouver before expanding to other Canadian cities April 8
This interview has been condensed and edited, multiverse style
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.