Tag Archives: Daniels

“Everything Everywhere” interview

2 Apr

With ‘Everything Everywhere,’ Daniels escape genre trap to make the multiverse meaningful

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 31, 2022

Daniels – Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, directors of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – at The Liberty hotel in Boston. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Around the same time as Sunday night’s slap felt round the world – that of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the Oscars – something equally thought-provoking but far less violent was taking place at MIT: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking team known as Daniels, were showing their latest, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” to a lecture series audience. If their gonzo, Gondry-esque flatulence flick “Swiss Army Man” (2016) was rooted in scatological surreality, “Everything Everywhere” is an absurdist multiverse overload propelled by family values, film references within film references and butt plugs. The plot has something to do with an immigrant laundry operator (Michelle Yeoh, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) battling a jacked-up IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis, in a devilishly funny turn) in a wildly generic office suite (think the office wars in “Time Bandits”) with segues into other planes of reality. In one, Yeoh’s imperiled heroine is a famous martial-arts action star (art imitating life); in another, she’s in a relationship with Curtis’ auditor in a universe where everyone’s fingers are floppy hot dogs. If you thought “Swiss Army Man” really went to some far-out places, be ready to go to infinity and beyond, literally. There’s a lot that comes at you, and a bit of cranium calisthenics required of the view, but a multitasking Yeoh holds the universe, her family and the film together.

The multiverse concept became a mainstream staple last year with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) tore the fabric of the universe and Spider-Men (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, alongside Tom Holland as the current Spidey) and their affiliated villains (Goblin, Sandman, Doctor Octopus and more) all pour into the present. Kwan said in our interview that they had started writing “Everything Everywhere” in 2016, “before any of that other stuff came out,” but laments that because of Spider-Ham in the 2018 animated change-up, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “we had to cut the talking pig.”

The Daniels looked at scientific theories around the principles driving a multiverse, Kwan said – namely the cosmological, “which is more about inflation and infinite space, versus quantum physics, which is more about superposition.” Scheinert clarified: “We’re not smart enough to read science papers, but we do pop science.”

It’s easy to tell by their seamless interaction that the filmmakers have a rare dynamic, like with the Safdie and Coen brothers, in which egos and personas aren’t a barrier, but a point of collaborative confluence. The pair met at Emerson, graduating in ’09, and kicked around Cambridge and Somerville too – Kwan in Central Square and Scheinert in Davis – before moving to Los Angeles, where they did varying TV and music video work before “Swiss Army Man.”

“Everything Everywhere” has been universally tagged as a sci-fi action comedy, but that’s reductive compared with what it really digs into. “I’m bummed when science fiction doesn’t explore how these big ideas make me feel but just use it as a plot point,” Scheinert said. “Swiss Army Man” explored loneliness and personal delusion as a means of coping, and “Everything Everywhere,” while on the surface being about saving the universe, is about making a connection in the chaos of the world. “How do you find each other in the noise of modern life?” Kwan says. “How do you find each other and truly see each other, when there’s so many things trying to pull us away from each other?”

At the core of that is Yeoh’s matron trying to rebuild strained relations with her husband (Ke Huy Quan, “Indiana Jones,” “The Goonies”), daughter (Stephanie Hsu, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and father (James Hong, most famous as the baddie in “Big Trouble in Little China,” but whose credits go back to the 1960s TV show “Dragnet” and as a voice in the 1956 “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) that manifest themselves in various ways in the varying multiverses. Scheinert calls it a “maximalist family drama.”

What’s next for The Daniels is up in the air; Kwan, who has a young child, has some illustrated children’s books coming out through the publishing arm of A24 Films, which distributed “Swiss Army Man” and “Everything Everywhere.”

When asked about that slap and the Oscars in general, Scheinert and Kwan suggested it was a phenomenon weirder than what a Daniels films deal with: “I watched a little bit of it in the hotel bar. The couple next to me had seen none of the movies and they kept asking me questions that I knew the answers to, but I got tired and went to bed.” Scheinert said it was great to see Curtis there and enjoys the pageantry, but added, “I don’t think art needs prizes.” Perhaps if Daniels had directed the Oscars ceremony, they could have ripped open the multiverse and scripted a different course. For now Hollywood is stained with the ignominy of that moment, while their film opens Friday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema.