SXSW returns with perfectly bizarre and emotional ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" directors and stars pose for a group photo
Directors Daniel Scheinert, center, and Daniel Kwan, back, from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” pose with stars Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh at the L.A. Times Photo Studio at SXSW.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
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“I’m so rusty.”

It was more than understandable when Janet Pierson, head of the SXSW Film Festival, stumbled a bit over some pre-show announcements that were once second nature. Friday night’s world premiere of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” launched the SXSW Film Festival for the first time since 2019, because the 2020 edition was among the first major shutdowns at the very beginning of the COVID era. The evening already felt emotional well before the movie started.

Pierson also said, “It’s amazing we are able to gather together again, it’s been a tough, hard couple of years, things are still hard all over. But this is an amazing moment that we get to enjoy an incredible movie together.”

Introducing writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a filmmaking duo known for their inventive music videos and 2016 feature “Swiss Army Man,” Pierson added how excited she was to be returning with this film in particular, “to have this kind of originality and innovation, it works on every single level.”


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Kwan and Scheinert took to the stage to riotous applause. As Kwan noted, “I cannot imagine a better audience and crowd for this movie, this movie is almost perfectly tailored to your guys’ brains.” He added, “It’s impossible to talk about this movie — because how do you talk about everything? — so we’re going to wait until afterwards to talk to you guys about it. But I just want to take a moment to talk about how awesome it is we’re going to watch this miracle of a movie, it should not exist, this miracle of a movie for the first time in person at South by Southwest opening night with a room filled with fellow cinephiles, movie nerds and Michelle Yeoh hard-core fans.”

And with that they brought out the main cast of Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan. (Cast member James Hong also appeared in a brief video introduction before the movie.) Quan, known for his roles as a child actor in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” returns to the screen for the first time in 20 years with the film.

Yeoh held the stage as she said, “I am so excited to be here. I am dying for you to watch this crazy, beautiful movie of ours.”

Directors and cast members of 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' stand on a stage in front of a movie screen
Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh at the opening night premiere Friday of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
(Rich Fury/Getty Images for SXSW)

“Movies are shared experiences, and this is where we belong, sharing the emotions, the laughter, the tears,” Yeoh added. “I am so goddamned proud of this film.”

Just before the movie began, Yeoh warned, “Put on your safety belts and get ready for the ride of your life.”


Kwan was not kidding when he said the movie was hard to describe and talk about. In short, it is the story of a Chinese American family dealing with a tax audit of their laundromat. (Some mild spoilers follow if you prefer to skip to the next paragraph.) But they all discover that they have gained access to a multiverse, seemingly infinite other possibilities of what their lives could be like:, a world where people have hot dogs for fingers, a moody Wong Kar Wai-styled melodramatic romance, a racoon (voiced by Randy Newman) that lives under a chef’s hat secretly controlling him, a place where they just exist as sentient rocks and many, many more, leading to a giant everything bagel that sucks everything into its nihilistic, negating center. There is wild kung fu action-adventure and deeply emotional scenes between a husband and a wife and a mother and a daughter. With a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film’s relentless, absurdist energy is a lot to take in, but then again it is simply trying to live up to its title.

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After the screening the filmmakers and cast all took the stage again to a standing ovation. Scheinert said the script was full of ideas left over from music video pitches: “We said let’s make a movie with everything in it, so we can use up all those things that Rihanna said no to.”

Kwan added, “In some ways our whole careers have been moving toward making this movie and it’s probably the first time I am truly, truly proud of something I’ve made.”

It said something about how strongly the audience responded to the film by just how earnest and serious the questions were. Rather than nerding out on Yeoh, Quan and Curtis, nearly all the questions were directed at Kwan and Scheinert — who collaborate under the moniker “Daniels”; Hsu even corrected herself about there being no “the” — and involved such topics as generational trauma, mental illness and the recent wave of anti-AAPI violence.

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" stars smile and strike funny poses in front of a SXSW banner
Harry Shum Jr., Jenny Slate, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Daniel Kwan, Michelle Yeoh, Daniel Scheinert and Jamie Lee Curtis at the SXSW Film Festival opening party Friday at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas.
(Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)

Kwan noted that in the time since they began working on the project he had gotten married and become a father, so even his own relationship to the story had changed.


“We’ll see what the next movie makes me realize about myself,” he added.