They dreamt up universes of hotdog fingers, googly-eyed rocks and “Raccaccoonie”. But Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, in this world or another, never imagined the kind of runaway success “Everything Everywhere All at Once” would have on the Oscar trail.
For the past year, since “Everything Everywhere All at Once” debuted at SXSW, the filmmaking duo known as the Daniels has been living in what has sometimes felt to them like a parallel dimension. They never expected that their madcap multiverse tale would take them to the Oscars. They still, sometimes, don’t believe it.
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“It feels like we’re in our movie sometimes,” Scheinert says. “At some point we’re going to get pulled out of this joke and be back to our own lives and be like, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be cool? Too bad.’”
Yet “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has emerged as the most improbable of Academy Awards heavyweights. An absurdist indie that pairs existentialism and everything bagels, released way back in March last year, is not just heading for a few possible wins at the Oscars on March 12. It’s poised to steamroll.
It’s the favorite to win best picture, best director, best actress for Michelle Yeoh and best supporting actor for Ke Huy Quan. A movie with fanny-pack-styled kung fu about a middle-aged woman filing her taxes is on course to best blockbusters (“Top Gun: Maverick”) and Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”), alike.
If “Everything Everywhere All at Once” — nominated for a leading 11 Oscars and already a winner with the predictive producers, actors and directors guilds — wins best picture, it will be one of the most anti-Oscar bait winners ever. Among other historic feats, it will almost certainly be the first best picture winner to prominently feature butt plugs.
“In kink-positive people’s defense, you can put almost anything up your butt,” Scheinert says, laughing. “So, in a way, every single Oscar movie has a butt plug. You just have to be creative.”
Getting creative has been part of the Daniels’ method since they first met at while studying film at Emerson College in Boston. Kwan, a Massachusetts native, and Scheinert, from Alabama, started off making music videos and shorts. Their feature film debut, 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” starred Daniel Radcliffe as a flatulence-emitting corpse. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is just their second feature. The Daniels are each 35.
The unexpected success — the A24 release has grossed more than $100 million worldwide against a $14.3 million budget — has thrown off the trajectory the Daniels imagined they might be on. In a recent, rare lull between awards ceremonies, they spoke by Zoom from Kwan’s home office. He apologized for the mess, a disorder that reminded him of their film.
However many Oscars “Everything Everywhere All at Once” ultimately wins — it won’t be a bagel — it’s clear to Kwan that nothing will ever be quite the same after their unexpected lurch onto Hollywood’s highest stage.
“I’ve gone through so many cycles of euphoria and depression and manic episodes,” Kwan, a gentle and introspective soul, says. “I’ve realized that I’m never going to get to back to my old life. That struck me at one of my low points and I had to actually mourn the loss of our lives. That can be both incredible and sad at the same time.”
When “Everything Everywhere All at Once” landed in theaters, it ignited the specialty film business after two years of pandemic, driving moviegoers back to art houses and becoming A24’s biggest box-office smash. But even then, awards talk was mostly farfetched. It wasn’t until the fall, when it won best film at the Gotham Awards that the buzz started to get real. Affection for the film just kept building. Early naysaying that the film was too strange for older academy voters has proved wrong.
Scheinert wryly recalls telling cast and crew on set: “We’re not making an Oscar movie here. This movie is about quantity, not quality.” And yet, by a twist of fate, a movie made without any thought of the Academy Awards is set to conquer them.
“The industry at large is going through a lot of soul searching,” says Kwan. “What happened with theatrical during the pandemic, what’s happening now with streaming, the fact that OscarsSoWhite has caused the makeup of the academy to change. We are in such a moment of flux that I do think somehow this strange movie has stuck a chord.”
At a time when Hollywood’s main studio product is in franchises, remakes and sequels, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is also a movie brimming with originality. (This is the first Oscar year two sequels, “Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” are nominated for best picture.) A vote for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a vote for something different.
“There’s something really important about stretching your own imagination in your everyday life. We create these narratives about ourselves and then we accidentally get trapped in them often,” says Kwan. “I grew up with a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing. The fact that I’m now a director who’s been able to find some success is just such a narrative-shattering, imagination-stretching idea that I would have never been able to imagine a few years ago.”
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