2022 | PG-13 | starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis | written & directed by Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) | 2 hrs 19 mins |
5 out of 5 stars
In the first big fight set piece of Everything Everywhere All At Once, Eveyln Wang’s nerdy husband pops a stick of chapstick into his mouth and proceeds to beat the heck out of group of armed goons with a fanny pack. I made a mental note that this is going to end up being the movie where a guy fights people with a fanny pack. How quirky. Before the end of it’s 2 hour 20 minute odyssey, Everything will fire off several more wacky set pieces with a thousand more quirky details, each more bizarre, inventive and free-wheeling than the last. This is a wild, hard to describe movie, a swirling amalgamation of a number of pop culture influences that it molds and shapes into something something new and exciting. Classically great in a way that fits no mold that defines typically great movies but also feels like the sum total of all of them. It’s invigorating and exhausting. Something like if Paul Thomas Anderson directed a live-action Rick and Morty on a Neil Blomkamp budget.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs a family laundry business with her meek husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), aging father and rebellious daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). One day the family takes a trip down to the IRS building to be held accountable for their taxable business expenses by a surly auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis). It’s here where a Waymond from another dimension jumps into the body of her husband and informs him that he is from one of infinite universes and that armies from all of them are about to converge on her, here, today, because she holds the key to saving the world from a nihilistic evil presence that stalks through the multiverse trying to wipe out existence.
Broken up into 2 parts based on the title, the film sets itself up and then explodes in a series of martial arts fight scenes all with their own theme and flavor and spending the majority of the film covering, but never leaving the IRS office. How does a movie like that open up from feeling claustrophobic? The Daniels (writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert of the high-concept Swiss Army Man) open it up by moving laterally across time. Evelyn is given a way to fight of the horde by accessing other versions of herself in other universes, downloading another lifetime’s worth of memories to give her skills and abilities instantly. She learns kung-fu from a version of herself that trained with Chinese masters, knife skills from a version that works as a Benihana chef and breath control from a version that is a world famous opera singer. Once the story cracks open another universe of Evelyns it doesn’t just use them to harvest a power where your average movie would stop – no, Everything then evolves an entire little storyline around that Evelyn, spiraling the story out into a wild multi-headed leviathan of subplots. Before it’s all over it’s not 100% clear who the “original” versions of our characters are and if it even matters. “And that’s not all” is the name of the game when it comes to Everything Everywhere All At Once.
What I loved about this movie, as a comedy, was that it never settle for the obvious joke instead setting it up and then building on it. Going back to it 2 or 3 times to crank up the absurdity. For example, it’s one thing to put our characters in a universe where humans evolved with big floppy, useless, hot dog fingers – that alone is a solid visual gag – but it’s another to make the extra loop back to a 2001-style opening at the dawn of mankind where monkeys with big floppy, useless hot dog fingers killed off monkeys with normal fingers and cut off the evolutionary lineage. It is an operatic whirling derbish of energy where in the same movie you’ll get a scene where people didn’t evolve beyond rocks and speak in rock subtitles, a fight scene where a guy tries to slam a paperweight up his ass, a cult that worships an Everything Bagel, a heartfelt scene where two lovers play the piano with their feet and a lengthy homage to the Brad Bird film Ratatouille – all of which the movie has the ambition to not play as an ironic joke. The tone here is just perfect, both funny and earnest in just the right measures and just the right moments. If it’s been a while since you’ve been surprised by a movie, this one has a wild reveal around every corner.
I mentioned Neil Blomkamp because the movie has that feel of watching District 9 for the first time, where a small movie with a limited budget uses sheer movie-making invention to effectively convey huge ideas. This movie absolutely excels at that. Where a more mainstream film would travel to another universe and can think of nothing more creative than giving another version of the character a goatee, Everything doesn’t stop until it lands on the most absurd version it can thing of, the truest vision I’ve seen on screen of what it really means to have infinite possibilities with every choice. And it does so for some throw away gags that last only seconds.
All of this would be fun as a silly comedy, but the Daniels also have something to say here. Evelyn’s journey doesn’t just go through the multiverse, but he film uses the multiverse idea to tell the story of the road not taken – or several roads not taken – as Evelyn feels her life is empty and wonders how many wrong choices she may have made to end up in the life she has. The butterfly effect of getting in the car, of marrying a man her father didn’t approve of or starting her laundry business instead of going into acting. We’re told that she’s remarkable because she’s so unremarkable, that she made all of the safe choices. Robert Frost by way of The Matrix. But at the center of all that, the film is a mother/daughter story, plundering through a Chinese generational conflict where the multi-verse story serves as a metaphor that wraps around everything from a single relationship, to the family tax audit to our place in the universe.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a thrilling, exhausting, indulgent experience of a movie. A blended collection of other sci-fi influences you’ll see a mile away, while wrestling with it’s own ideas of a lifetime of regret and the temptation of nihilism. It’s an indie budget movie that through sheer clever filmmaking invention effectively conveys an epic scope of an almost unfilmable concept, allowing the focus on character to keep the film from spiraling out of control. It’s the best depiction of the simultaneous infinite possibilities of a multi-verse I’ve ever seen put on film and guided into a story. It seems both very deliberate in it’s details and wild-eyed enough that it may fly off the rails at any moment. It’s a stylish genre movie, that finds its way to potential greatness by tugging and pulling at the template we have for what defines a classic movie. It’s as different and mold breaking as any watershed genre movie. Constantly defining and redefining itself and our expectations with crude humor, crazy fight scenes, an endless barrage if invention and a gripping story. Aggressively original and a must see.