Everything Everywhere All At Once – movie review

Multiverses are all the rage right now. From Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse to the upcoming Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, it seems like you can’t turn around without another multi-dimensional movie smacking you in the face. But Everything Everywhere All At Once is different. Yes, it’s another multiverse, but one the good folks at Marvel could barely imagine.

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. Daniels) wrote and directed the film. You might remember their last film, the deeply bizarre Swiss Army Man. But here they get the chance to let their imaginations go even wilder. And despite not having the budget of a Marvel film, they show what some judicious CGI can do for a smaller budget.

The plot is a bit complicated (no surprise there!). Basically it follows the trials of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). She runs a failing laundromat with husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). She also has a prickly relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). But some incompetent (dodgy?) bookkeeping has put Evelyn’s business on the IRS’s radar. She and Waymond are called into a meeting with hard-nosed auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis). On the elevator up to the IRS office, Waymond’s manner suddenly changes. He tells her about a mysterious janitor’s closet to her right. Soon, Evelyn discovers she’s in the fight of her life with a variety of foes – including a nasty piece of work called Jobu Tupaki. But with Waymond’s assistance, Evelyn discovers she can access apparently infinite lifetimes; a find that unlocks immense power.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a sprawling story set in multiple realities, multiple lifetimes and with multiple outcomes. But its message comes down to connection. It’s actually about dealing with the messy, confusing stuff of everyday life. It also dives into family – particularly mother-daughter – relationships. So its seemingly baffling structure actually has a very human point.

Not that it’s all entirely successful. A few fragments in the plot (like one involving sentient rocks) fall flat. But the Daniels mostly keep the swirling elements of the plot in some sort of alignment as their mind-bending movie hurtles toward a rather unexpected conclusion. And the film is aided immensely by a diverse soundtrack from Son Lux, featuring collaborations with Mitski, David Byrne, André 3000 and Randy Newman (!).

This is also a film for film buffs. The Daniels obviously borrow heavily from kung-fu movies, particularly those of Bruce Lee. But they also reveal influences from sci-fi (notably 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is specifically referenced), as well as Quentin Tarantino and screwball comedies like The Man with Two Brains.

Cinematic treasure Michelle Yeoh (Gunpowder Milkshake) powers the film along as Evelyn. But her task is made easier by fine supporting turns. Ke Huy Quan (who was in Encino Man a lifetime ago) delivers an understated but sympathetic performance as Waymond. Stephanie Hsu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) is excellent in the demanding role of Joy. Another screen legend Jamie Lee Curtis (Knives Out) flits effortlessly through multiple iterations of Deirdre. And yet another, James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), plays a small but crucial part as Evelyn’s father.

The Daniels have achieved something many have tried but few have delivered. Everything Everywhere All At Once explores a multiverse in interesting ways. But the Daniels understand that their multiverse, however bizarre it might seem, is merely a vehicle for their story. And so their film – for all its elaborate trappings – has meaning and heart.

David Edwards

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