Every now and then a movie comes along that’s utterly unlike anything you’ve seen before, is both mind blowingly original and devastatingly intimate and on top of all that, it’s ruthlessly witty.
Usually you’d have to scour the multiverse to find such a movie that defies expectations as stubbonly as this, both thankfully we all seem to be living in the brightest timeline because we get to enjoy comedy/sci-fi/fantasy/drama extravaganza Everything Everywhere All At Once on release and let its beautiful, heartfelt, zanyness wash over us like bubbles of some glorious meta-jacuzzi. Brought to us by the saints at A24 and written and directed by the Daniels, the maverick duo that crafted the infinitely adorable Swizz Army Man about the friendship between a man and and corpse, everyone here has flamboyantly outdone themselves with the tale of an immigrant laundromat owner drawing from the skills of her multiversal selves in order to save reality from an unspeakable evil.
Evelyn Wang is the Chinese-American woman who owns a failing laundromat that’s about to be audited by the the IRS, but her problems don’t end with the fact that she’s struggling to accept her daughter’s lesbianism, trying to negotiate living with her incredibly demanding father and try to reconcile with the knowledge that her husband, a man usually filled with almost childlike kindness, has handed her divorce papers.
While trying to negotiate the labyrinthine rules of unyielding IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra, Evelyn’s husband Waymond undergoes a major personality shift and reveals that he’s actually the version of Wayland from another dimension known as the Alphaverse that has achieved multiversal travel between universes by slingshoting their personalities throughout numerous parallel universes and he’s come here to recruit Evelyn in the fight against a destructive being known as Jobu Tupaki.
Evelyn, a bitter, middle-aged woman who has a ton of regrets and no real special skills to speak of is naturally as sceptical as you can get, but when this Alpha-Waymond suddenly gets involved in an incredibly involved martal arts brawl with site security and Deirdre is possessed by a version of herself that’s an acolyte of Jobu Tupaki that’s acquired the skills of a professional wrestler.
From here on in, things aggressively get weirder by the minute as Evelyn struggles to adapt to the increasingly bizarre conditions needed to make the ‘verse jumping tech work while simultaneously trying to hold her disintegrating family together – but when she finds out that Jobu Tupaki’s identity is shockingly close to home, a multiversal battle that involves nihilistic bagels, multiversal cults, make-shift butt-plugs and life-affirming googly eyes breaks out that could end all life as we know it – even in a universe where everyone has hotdogs for fingers…
Uncompromisingly odd and insanely complicated, probably the first thing about Everything Everywhere All At Once that flat out guarantees how amazing it truly is is the fact that all of it somehow makes sense. I’m not even sure how the Daniels (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) managed to pull all it off and manage to provide the steady possession of Matrix-meets-Monty Python levels of absurdity that’s drip-fed into your disbelieving, but marveling, eyeballs – googly or otherwise. The unverse(s) that the Daniels have created is both vastly complicated and gently silly, with the ability to draw on the talents of the other you from another universe only possible with the use of special ear buds and the need to do a specific but ridiculous task in order to download fighting skills or enhanced senses directly into your brain and it leads to some truly brain melting set pieces that remain truly unforgettable. Could you envisage Neo only being able to do the things he can do unless he inserts a lava lamp somewhere deeply intimate?
However, such weaponized lunacy could easily be overwhelming without something to anchor it and it’s here we pay tribute to the legitimately moving drama at play here as the Wang’s family drama mirrors whatever is afflicting reality and the cast are nothing short of utterly superlative. Led by global treasure Michelle Yeoh – who somehow has never been better – the seemingly insignificant trials and tribulations of this family is every bit as equal and important as the undiluted crazy that ricochets all over the screen. Yeoh, merging her fighting skills and acting abilities in ways she’s never had to do before, bringing relatable life to this sad, fussy woman who is destined to save us from a malevolent force who changes their outfit more often that they change their reality. However, despite her immense talents, that doesn’t mean this is a one woman show, with Ke Huy Quan (formerly Short Round from Temple Of Doom and Data from The Goonies) returning from the acting nether world to give incredible layers to husband Waymond that hint at the potential nobility of being so meek, Stephanie Hsu pulling off a breathtaking balancing act as increasingly nihilist daughter Joy, living legend James Hong as Evelyn’s strict father and even Jamie Lee Curtis, kitted out with a wig full of dead hair and a desk worker’s paunch as the genuinely intimidating IRS worker.
Watching this movie genuinely made my heart swell that human beings are still able to make films so dizzyingly inventive that are still getting a cinema release as you sit in an audience as you all collectively figure this shit out in unison while the movie alternates with walloping you with themes of family, wasted potential, existentialism and nihilism and then rug-pulls you into a pitch-perfect Ratatouille based running gag.
To go on a usual rant about how awesome all the expertly pitched jokes are, but the less you know going in the more rich the experience truly is and while this may be beyond some people’s ability to handle various aspects of its deeply eccentric aspects (this is may be an American movie, but it’s about a Chinese speaking family – so naturally expect subtitles), to turn down an opportunity to watch possibly one of the richest movie of this – or any other – year is to deny yourself an incredibly warm journey to another universe (or two).
Everything Everywhere All At Once is exactly that and a whole lot more.