Warning: Spoilers for 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' below.
"Everything Everywhere All at Once" is many things: a gonzo sci-fi adventure, a multigenerational family drama, even a dark comedy thriller.
"We could say a million things about it, but the most simple, honest thing is that it's about a mom learning to pay attention to her family in the chaos," writes Daniel Kwan, who co-wrote and co-directed the A24 film with Daniel Scheinert, breaking it all down in the production notes. (The duo is known collectively as "Daniels.")
Anchoring the movie is Michelle Yeoh deftly showing her range (and eliciting plenty of laughs with her deadpan humor) as Evelyn. The Chinese American immigrant, small business owner and head of household toils through her taxes while butting heads with IRS drone Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). After a shocking revelation, Evelyn traverses a series of multiverses — a.k.a. alternate realities she could have lived if she hadn't left her family in Hong Kong to marry sweet Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and run a SoCal laundromat — in order to save the world. As Evelyn realizes WTF is happening, the audience experiences the bombastic journey alongside her, aided by clever visual clues, like the wide-ranging, expressive and almost animated costumes by Shirley Kurata.
The incredibly cool Los Angeles-based costume designer and wardrobe stylist (who has worked with artists like Billie Eilish, Sky Ferreira and brands like Kenzo and Rodarte) already knew producer Jonathan Wang from commercial work. He introduced her to Daniels, and the three immediately bonded.
"Being Asian American, I want to work on movies where there's more representation, especially Asian representation," says Kurata. "A Hollywood film having an Asian cast and leads — I was like, 'Oh my god. Sign me up right there!' But also, I like working on projects that are just very creative and very out there."
Kurata — worked as a costume designer on HBO Max's "Generation," and recently did the wardrobe for the Humberto Leon-directed The Linda Lindas "Growing Up" music video — found the project "a perfect fit," and happily jumped on-board.
In Evelyn's main reality (or the IRS Universe), she's the "single-most failed version" of herself (harsh), resigned to the push-and-pull of running a service industry biz while being a mother to disgruntled second-generation millennial Joy (Stephanie Hsu, "Awkwafina is Nora from Queens," "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"), a daughter/caregiver to her ailing father (James Hong) and a wife to Waymond, whom she considers meek (but he actually kills with kindness, so to speak.) In short, Evelyn doesn't have much time or money to spend on her outfits.
"As a costume designer, I think about, 'Where would she shop, and where would she get her clothes?' Well, she would go to Chinatown," says Kurata, who indeed sourced Evelyn's floral button-up, cropped pants and quilted zipper vest in Los Angeles' Chinatown. Chinese American Kwan shared memories of his mother, while Kurata looked to her own SoCal laundromat-owning parents. ("Well, my mom always wears those vests.")
The multiverse showdown coincides with IRS Universe Evelyn's own emotional confrontation — with herself and her relationships with her husband, father and daughter — during a Chinese New Year party at the laundromat. She greets guests (invited and not) in a celebratory red collared cardigan with gold-lined buttons and floral patterns on the sleeves (above). Unexpectedly, the word "punk" is emblazoned on the side pockets and across the back. And, no, the knit isn't some obscure streetwear collab, but rather another Chinatown gem, also specific to immigrant Asian American mom culture. (The fortuitous nature of the find feels apropos for a movie exploring — or questioning — destiny.)
"When I saw this sweater, I was like, 'Oh my god, this is perfect," Kurata says. "It's funny because a lot of products from Asia, sometimes there's a word on it and like, 'Why is it there?'"
The homely sweater's unintentionally subversive message also augmented what Kurata wanted to convey about Evelyn and her mostly unacknowledged struggle and accomplishments. "Her character is punk rock," she says. "At first, you don't think that, but immigrant parents that have come to this country — and English is not their native language — and started this business. That's punk rock. If someone asked me to go to a country where I don't speak the language and start a business, that's scary."
Daniels began working on the film in 2016, to catch the increasing wave of Asian American representation in Hollywood during the "Asian August" of 2018, kicked off by "Crazy Rich Asians." The duo originally conceived the film with Jackie Chan as the protagonist, with Yeoh essentially as the Waymond. But as they continued writing (and as casting the former proved unfeasible), Daniels realized that the story became more powerful with Yeoh's matriarch as the lead — which also proved a different type of role (and thereby costumes) for the dazzling international film star.
"I was really scared because Michelle, having come from 'Crazy Rich Asians'... What if she's gonna expect all these expensive designer clothes, and I'm getting these really inexpensive clothes from Chinatown? Is she gonna be upset?," says Kurata, with a laugh. "But it was the easiest fitting, and I was so grateful that she was open to not the most glamorous outfit. But [Evelyn] has her moments later."
Smash-cut to the Movie Star Universe, in which Evelyn rejected Waymond to become a Hong Kong martial arts luminary. Sounds familiar, right? (Also because montages of Evelyn's glam alt-life includes past real-life red carpet footage of Yeoh, including her black Armani Privé moment at the "Crazy Rich Asians" premiere.)
Looking to the moody, seductive and romantic aesthetic of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, Kurata reached out to Elie Saab — a favorite of Yeoh's — for a few options. The lead immediately gravitated toward a grand sparkling champagne gown (above), with floral appliqués atop a billowing tulle skirt that barely fits in the backseat of Evelyn's stretch limo.
"It ties into Michelle Yeoh as an actress," says Kurata of the very meta tribute. "Because Evelyn is wearing glamorous red carpet dresses and is a successful movie star." (The costume designer also referenced Yeoh's catalog of martial arts films for Evelyn's Kung Fu Universe costumes.)
As Waymond, Quan finally seizes the movie star spotlight that he's long deserved: After co-starring in two of the biggest movies of the '80s, Quan struggled to book roles in a non-inclusive Hollywood and eventually found success behind-the-camera, so his character's multiverse transformation into dashing "CEO Waymond," as Kurata gleefully says, felt especially poignant. At her premiere, Evelyn spots Waymond atop the theater stairs smoldering in a tailored black suit, à la Hong Kong cinema icon Tony Leung from Wong's "In the Mood for Love." Kurata found the ideal suit (below) in L.A.'s Koreatown.
Waymond makes his low-key superstar debut earlier, in the IRS Universe, with his now-legendary dad fanny pack — also showing off Quan's proven expertise as a martial arts fight choreographer.
"We tried different [packs] and but we felt like the leather — or pleather — one looked right," says Kurata, who thinks she bought the bag from Amazon in multiples.
Waymond effortlessly wields the functionally oversized and multi-zippered (you know, to stash essentials, like verse-jump-inducing chapstick) bum bag as a deadly weapon. But, like his wife, Waymond's unassuming striped polo and slouchy khaki cargos are from Chinatown. ("It was an easy one for me because I just was like, 'Asian dad.'")
Of course, there's also the much-discussed, very out-there Hot Dog Fingers Universe, where an evolutionary quirk caused humans to develop flaccid, useless wiener appendages on their hands. In this monotoned environment, Evelyn and Deirdre, as partners, dress alike in neutral-hued pussy bow blouses layered under vests (above), in the same knit as the latter's lemon yellow IRS Universe one.
"I thought they should be in the colors of a hot dog, just like beiges and a soft pink," says Kurata. "I felt like the universe would be similar colors, so we purposely did that." The vests, however, indicate a multiverse "crossover": The puff-sleeve blouses bring "softness and romanticism," connecting Deirdre and Evelyn. "At first, they're polar opposites and they don't like each other. As the movie progresses, they come to understand each other — maybe Deirdre understands Evelyn more — so in this world, they're more alike than they think they are and are actual lovers."
But disorder and destruction threatens the multiverses, thanks to the "agent of chaos," Jobu Tupaki, also played by Hsu — possibly as a metaphor for fraught mother-daughter dynamics and a clash of generations in immigrant families.
Jobu's cacophony of costumes illustrate the uncontrolled disorder while turning Asian stereotypes on its head, like a "K-pop star" in a kaleidoscopic plush teddy bear hoodie with yellow PVC pants and "goth anime" character in a monochromatic black leather mini-skirt and sculptural sweater.
She makes her ominous debut in a tartan ensemble, custom-made by New Zealand Chinese designer Claudia Li, whom Kurata knows from styling. Eerily prescient while prepping and shooting prior to the pandemic, Li designed a matching plaid face mask and shield to obscure Jobu's face. (Masking in East and Southeast Asia has long been common practice and courtesy to protect people and the community around them from colds and allergies.) She then reveals herself to Evelyn in a raucous sequence of changes: an Elvis-referential gold-studded white jumpsuit (above); then a dildo nunchaku-throwing pro-wrestler in a blue onesie, faux fur jacket and lightening bolt earrings; and, finally, the pink argyle vest golfing outfit, also a nod to Asian tropes.
In the "otherworldly" Bagel Universe where Jobu explains the grand plan, she rules in a futuristic all-white ensemble: a pleated tulle skirt, also by Claudia Li, and a top custom-built by Kurata, with sharp-shoulders, pearl-embellished bodice and an Elizabethan ruff collar. "I thought pearls would be nice, and I just wanted something a little bit clean and regal, but in this sci-fi way," says Kurata, who enjoyed the creative freedom in the anarchic range of costumes, culminating in the "Jumble Jobu" ensemble, which she draped free-hand.
Ultimately, through all the chaos, "Everything Everywhere" is a film about coming together as a family, despite what the world throws at you.
"There's a very hopeful and important message [in the movie] of love and kindness and empathy," says Kurata.
'Everything Everywhere All at Once' premieres in N.Y.C., L.A. and San Francisco on Friday, March 25, expands on Friday, April 1 and opens nationwide on Friday, April 8.