Synopsis – An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.
My Take – It truly is astonishing to see how in a time where cinemas are dominated by superheroes and franchises, and original films are becoming harder and harder to come by, indie powerhouse A24 has strategically taken over a significant piece of the market by backing artistic projects with unique visions, irrespective of the genre.
One great example of their distribution filmography is the 2016 release, Swiss Army Man, a black comedy written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (in their respective feature directorial debuts) known collectively (by their choice) as Daniels, which won acclaim for selling its insane yet tender relationship between the survivor of a shipwreck and a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe.
However, nothing could have prepared us for the filmmaker’s sophomore effort, a genre mashup which is somehow more bizarre, more audacious, and way more spectacularly entertaining than anyone could have ever predicted. Bursting with so many original, weird concepts and ideas that no serious storyteller in their right mind would ever dare to use together, here, filmmakers Daniels have created one of the most innovative films ever made.
Sure, there have been films that have tackled some of the ideas here before, but never in a way that’s this creative, this incredibly clever, this exciting, and this sincerely. With its unique brand of humor, rich performances and cinematic score, this genre-bending acid trip of a film is without a doubt a triumph in every sense of the word. All the while pushing the boundaries of conventional cinema.
While I truly enjoyed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), this one is my choice of the best multiverse film of the year.
The story follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a disillusioned, uptight and exhausted Chinese American woman who is attempting to organize her documents in preparation for an IRS audit of the laundromat she owns with her smilingly disappointing husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan).
Adding more woes to her life is the fact her father (James Hong), who is disappointed in his daughter for the life she chose, is scheduled to arrive the same day, and her continuously straining relationship with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), mainly as Evelyn wants to keep Joy’s girlfriend status with Becky (Tallie Medel) a secret from dear old conservative dad/grandfather.
But her life takes a weird turn when the she heads into the tax office lift to keep up with their appointment with Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), an IRS inspector, when the usually placid Waymond suddenly transforms into a version he claims is from a parallel universe called the Alphaverse. Informing her that she’s the key to saving all reality.
As out of all the Evelyns that exist in every universe, branching off from every choice she’s ever made, this Evelyn has fared the worst. Making her the perfect candidate to defeat Jobu Tupaki, an all-powerful verse jumper who is threatening to tear reality apart, as she’s the only one who still has unfulfilled potential.
If this sounds like a mad premise for a film, that’s because it very much is. As they proved with their debut feature, here directors Daniels have little interest in logic or simplicity. They go bold and existential with their storytelling, and it’s all the better for it. The process is a funny and tear-jerking one, where audiences go from laughing at one scene to crying at the next.
Not only do we encounter multiple versions of every character and countless overlapping realities, but the filmmakers also visualize nihilism as a giant bagel, travel to worlds where people are born with hot dogs for fingers, and drop in a slow-motion shot of a muscular security guard launching himself across a room to land on a butt plug. It’s utterly deluded, but also delightfully entertaining.
The filmmakers choose not only to put every bizarre idea they could think of into their film, but they ensure that every oddity adds something to the thought-provoking, emotionally resonant themes that pervade the story. So many angles can be explored surrounding this story of emotional connection and the things that distract from it.
The action delivers, too, and there’s just the right amount of it. I love how thrillingly strange the film is for a while, then you begin to make sense of it, and then it just keeps expertly piling more and more layers on, and does so over a fast-paced 140 minutes in a way where it never actually falls apart.
But for all its sci-fi and fantasy trappings, this is indeed a film with down-to-earth concerns like the relationship between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, coming of age and coming out, dreams and disappointments, otherness and belonging, generation gaps and information overloads.
For all its multiverse-spanning madness, what makes this really impactful is the drama at its core, the touching tale of one family who are at the risk of falling apart, working to stay together. At a time of such division and anger in the world, it is refreshing to see a film that shuns the melodramatic appeal of nihilism to promote the importance of love and tolerance, something which it does so with remarkable effectiveness.
Performance wise, action veteran Michelle Yeoh puts her acting prowess on full display. Her martial arts skills, her perfect comedic timing and her immaculate ability to convey the full range of human emotion with the minutest actions are a joy to watch as she cycles through being a world-class hibachi chef, a film star, a blind opera singer, a dominatrix, a rock and everything in between. Ke Huy Quan is the heart of the film. The former child-star known for his roles in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and The Goonies (1985) makes his triumphant return to film after a 20-year hiatus in a very relatable role.
Stephanie Hsu too is excellent, drawing and relaying intense emotions throughout, while Jamie Lee Curtis seems to be having a blast playing a no-bullshit tax officer. In other roles, James Hong, Tallie Medel, Harry Shum Jr. and Jenny Slate are great. On the whole, ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once‘ is a wildly ambitious and furiously original genre-mash up extravaganza that is genuinely moving, utterly hilarious and highly imaginative.
Rated – R
Run Time – 140 minutes