Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits one of 2022’s best films… Everything Everywhere All at Once!
So many movies, even the good ones, follow familiar beats in their telling of a traditional tale. Filmmaking duo The Daniels — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — kicked off their career in music videos before moving into features with 2016’s Swiss Army Man, and it’s already clear that they’re interested in some far nuttier ideas. Six years later they’ve returned with another highly unconventional feature, and Everything Everywhere All at Once is easily among 2022’s best films.
It’s a story about the metaverse that explores it in ways Marvel wouldn’t dare. That it also delivers an emotionally affecting — real talk, your eyes will well up by the end — story about family, relationships, loneliness, and more, is no small feat. Especially as its heartfelt sequences are bumping up against goofy humor, bonkers science, and Chekhov’s butt plug. It’s a terrific film, even on rewatch, and it’s one filled will endless amounts of creativity and inspiration.
Unrelated, but it’s wild that two of the year’s best films feature a scene where one character hops atop another’s shoulders so they can kick ass. Seriously, double feature Everything Everywhere All at Once and RRR for an amazingly good time.
Anyway, keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Commentators: Daniel Kwan (co-writer/co-director), Daniel Scheinert (co-writer/co-director)
1. “We’re in the middle of a press tour, our brains are kind of on fire,” says Kwan, but they hope they can still deliver a good commentary.
2. The film opens with a “family portrait” as it was important that our introduction to the Wang family is seeing them genuinely happy before it all goes to hell.
3. Kwan based the opening shot of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) on the cluttered lives of his many aunts and uncles. The Chinese phone book and “weird glowing butterfly display” are lifted directly from his childhood. “I’ve had some Asian American audience members come up to me and say that this apartment triggers them.”
4. They kept the camera work simple and hopefully invisible early on, “basically trick the audience into thinking this was going to be a normal movie.”
5. Stephanie Hsu and Tallie Medel were acquaintances before being cast in the film, and Medel also went to school with the Daniels. “They’re also the same height which made it fun to photograph them.”
6. The opening dinner scene is here in part because there was originally going to be a spaghetti universe too.
7. They reference the opening of Home Alone (1990) as a reference point for this film’s opening as it moves around their home introducing viewers to numerous locations and items that will come back later in the film. It’s equally inspired by the opening to Punch-Drunk Love (2002).
8. The number 42 on the laundry bag is “a stupid obvious reference” to the work of Douglas Adams.
9. James Hong was 91 during filming, and he had five stand-ins for the various action beats. One even volunteered to shave his head just for the honor of doubling Hong.
10. The car window shot of Joy (Hsu) was a pick-up filmed after production wrapped and they realized they needed something to highlight her pain earlier.
11. There’s a brief shot of Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) as a boy, and they toyed around trying to use motion-capture from his Short Round days. It ultimately didn’t quite work though.
12. The IRS meeting with Jamie Lee Curtis was the first scene shot on the first day. “I think Jamie taking such a risk with her character, being so grounded but weird, just sort of set the tone for the whole movie.”
13. “Getting punched by Michelle Yeoh was a dream of hers,” they say regarding Curtis’ desire to shoot the scene multiple times.
14. The inserts of Waymond’s fanny pack belt during his fight with the security guards at 29:19 were inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013).
15. One of the extras during Jobu Tupaki’s (also Hsu) introduction took pictures and posted them on Instagram. She was not invited back for more work.
16. The film was shot before the pandemic, but it features characters in facemasks and using hand sanitizer simply because they’re often part of Asian communities.
17. Hong wanted to do multiple takes with the pudding, but their supply of sugar-free pudding was limited… so Hong would spit the pudding back into the cup between takes. “Our props team was literally like heaving in the corner.”
18. They put Scotch tape along the edges of the paper at 39:00 so that Quan wouldn’t actually get a paper cut.
19. Scheinert wonders if anyone ever notices his f/x work at 39:30 when the blood hits the lens.
20. The scene where Deidre (Curtis) in evil wrestler mode is stalking Evelyn among the cubicles is inspired by the Velociraptor kitchen scene in Jurassic Park (1993).
21. Yeoh is not actually in the RV at 42:20. This was a reshoot, and she was in Paris at the time as Covid began whipping up, so they shot it on a green screen and added her in. It’s their least favorite way to film actors.
22. The shot of Evelyn zooming backwards from 45:16 to 45:24 features footage Kwan filmed over the course of a full year. Museums, location scouts, and more. All condensed into eight seconds.
23. Kwan cameos at 45:45 as the mugger, and Scheinert is the sub exiting the safe room at 1:10:06.
24. The scene where Joy is turned into Jobu wasn’t in the script, but it was suggested that audiences needed to see the transition so they devised and shot it.
25. They love auditioning actual stunt personel for smaller roles that involve action so they don’t need to double them.
26. Hsu’s laugh with the dildos at 56:04 occurred after they called cut, but they loved it so much they included it in the film.
27. “This throwaway gag just got more and more elaborate as we went,” they say regarding the hot dog fingers sequence. Worth it.
28. Hsu auditioned with the bagel monologue and killed it. “Such a dumb line, but she makes it so beautiful.”
29. Yeoh is a trained and very talented dancer, so they were “so proud of her for doing such a bad job here” at 1:09:02.
30. The introduction of Harry Shum Jr. as the chef sees him miming vegetable slicing and dicing — all of the veggies were added in post, not with CG, but painted in via After Effects.
31. The sound cue at 1:22:01 as the guy is launched into the air by Evelyn’s pinkie finger is inspired by Super Smash Brothers.
32. They were concerned that a low budget and a short shooting schedule would leave their fight scenes paling beside Hollywood productions, but they needn’t have worried.
33. “To me, this is where the movie really begins,” says Kwan at 1:25:30 of the Everything Everywhere All at Once commentary. The early scripts had the entire end credits rolling while Evelyn runs through her various lives for the next eight minutes.
34. Jobu grabs a branch at 1:29:25 and it quickly morphs through various forms. Someone called them out as one of the objects is an Oscar. It’s in there at 1:29:29.
35. They would encourage Hsu’s disrespect at times by suggesting that Jobu thinks the film itself is dumb, and it upset the actor as she actually loves the film. “We were like, that means that you’re on to something because Jobu is the postmodern voice in the back of our heads who can’t take anything seriously.”
36. The scene where Evelyn and Jobu become rocks was originally going to see the dialogue voiced, but Yeoh wisely suggested it be subtitled instead.
37. They received studio notes wanting more of the Alpha universe and its plan to destroy the bagel, but they didn’t want to get into all that. “What we realized was that we needed to make the emotional stakes, like Jobu and Evelyn’s relationship to the bagel even clearer, and all would be forgiven.” It’s a reminder for writers to sometimes, instead of disregarding notes all together, look for the note behind the note.
38. They describe this as an action film about empathy, and that’s pretty spot on.
39. Evelyn’s ascent up the stairs during the final fight features the same music from the earlier scene where she looked up to see the Wai version of Waymond atop the theater stairs.
40. Yeoh’s tear at 2:05:28 fell after they called cut and were wondering why she wasn’t breaking character. It was because she knew the tear was coming.
41. The final scene in the parking lot originally ended with everyone singing “Barbie Girl” by Aqua.
42. Life is still overwhelming even after a happy ending, and they wanted to ensure audiences know there’s still a little bit of the unsettled noise in Evelyn’s mind.
43. They love doing commentaries and try not to be the kind of filmmakers who keep everything close to the vest when it comes to tricks of the trade, their thought processes, and more.
44. It was Scheinert’s girlfriend, Stefanie, who suggested the production assistants should get put at the front of the end credits. “They were the first ones there and the last ones to leave.”
45. Scheinert hopes to one day end a film with an additional note beside the traditional Humane Society one saying “We harmed hundreds of animals in the making of this movie because we had meat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Lotta circles in the movie.”
“This movie’s very hard to do a commentary for because there’s too much happening.”
“We love impressive visual effects, but I have such a soft spot for just basic camera tricks.”
“If you think the movie’s magic just stop the commentary now.”
“Jamie just did whatever she wanted and we just kept recording.”
“When we were shooting this at times I was like, ‘is this too stupid?'”
“For the aspiring screenwriters out there who are self conscious that their rough drafts are bad, so are ours.”
“Cigarettes are gross.”
“There’s a version of this movie where the first half is The Matrix, and the second half fully is Magnolia, but it proved to be too impossible to write that movie.”
“I love this moment where she says ‘I’m tired,’ because that’s what the audience is thinking.”
“This is our end of movie rom-com declaration of love where you neg them first. It’s the Harry Met Sally moment.”
“We made them squirt a lot of ketchup and mustard into each other’s mouths, and then we just used a moment of it.”
Final Thoughts on the ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Commentary
With only two feature films to their collective name so far, the Daniels have already proven themselves to be immensely talented and empathetic filmmakers. Everything Everywhere All at Once remains an exhilarating and emotional watch — not naming names, but someone might have teared up during the finale even though the commentary track was playing — and the pair back it up with an entertaining and enlightening talk. They share anecdotes, technical details, and a love for their cast and crew. It’s a great listen and highly recommended.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.