Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

I know responsible film critics see movies twice, but life is too short, and the reviews you read here are, for the most part, based on single viewings. With this surprise Oscar contender, however, I made a point of returning for a second glance because the first time I couldn’t wrap my head around enough of the details to appreciate fully what the two writer-directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, were trying to tell me. It was just too exhausting. But on second viewing, the story fell into place, and the details, most of which are just childish jokes, hit their targets without a lot of fuss. More to the point, the emotional contours pulled me in, and while the plot was still too contrived to qualify as something I could identify with on a personal level, I cared a lot for the characters and their situation.

The situation is quotidian to a fault. Our hero, in all senses of the word, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), owns and operates a laundromat in what looks like Southern California with her timid husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). After they married, the Wangs emigrated to the U.S. against the wishes of Evelyn’s old world father, Gong Gong (James Hong), and eventually had a daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who, as we join the action, has turned into a college-age adult with a girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), whom Evelyn doesn’t know how to deal with, especially at this particular moment with her ailing father visiting them for his birthday. As it stands, Joy can barely speak Cantonese, so what is Gong Gong going to think when he is introduced to Becky? Added to these anxieties, Waymond is suddenly asking for a divorce and Evelyn is scheduled to undergo an IRS audit for which she is ill-prepared, especially given the woman assigned to her case: Dierdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), a dyed-in-the-wool numbers cruncher who sees her job as a righteous calling.

Despite the movie’s overlong running time and ensuing frenzy, the one thing Daniels do very well is pacing. Just as Evelyn is reaching the end of her rope in front of the auditor, the multiverse comes crashing into her consciousness as Waymond switches from his nerdy persona into that of an avenging space jumper with sick martial arts skills. He informs Evelyn that she has been identified as the only person who can save the multiverse from an evil force named Jobu Tupaki. And as Evelyn attempts to carry out, at first reluctantly, the mission she’s been charged with, she realizes that the multiverse is made up of all the situations that would have developed had the various decisions she faced in her life were addressed differently. In other words, she sees her life, and the lives of her loved ones, as a gestalt that contains multitudes. Unlike The Matrix, however, Everything treats the concept as a laff-riot, and Daniels come up with the most ridiculous outcomes, binding them all together by means of a dream logic that actually makes perfect sense. 

My mistake while watching it the first time was blinking, because you miss a lot if you do, in particular the brilliance of the action set pieces and the weirdness of the interstitial shenanigans, which follow physical laws that could have only been thought up by the Marx Brothers. Jumping from one universe to another, for instance, invariably involves a preternaturally silly action, like saying “I love you” to someone you very definitely don’t love (still, I could have done without the paper cut gimmick). But in the end, the innumerable strands, no matter how far out they dangle, get woven together into a tapestry of interpersonal empathy that transcends the movie’s knockabout purposes. Families matter–and antimatter, too.

In English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Opens March 3 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Everything Everywhere All at Once home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 A24 Distribution LLC

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