As she prepares for the Chinese New Year and an IRS audit over her laundromat, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is confronted with some shocking news - in another universe, she has created the ability to jump between universes and is now in a war against a dark presence that threatens to wipe out all other universes. As she tries to navigate her failing marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), an overzealous IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis), her father's stubborn expectations (James Hong), and her daughter (Stephanie Hsu) and her lesbian partner (Tallie Medel), Evelyn must also face the insanity of the multiverse...
If you walk out of 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' with your ears ringing and your head spinning, know that you're not alone and that you're in the correct frame of mind. The whole point of 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' is to overload you from the very beginning. The chaos of ordinary life is just as overwhelming in this movie as the fantastic multiversal extravaganza that runs alongside it. In fact, when the action kicks off, the movie actually starts to make more sense. You either go mad from trying to wrap your head around it all or just accept it and know that none of it is really supposed to make sense. For example, how do you explain a universe where everyone has hot dogs for fingers that shoot out mustard and tomato ketchup? Or a universe where everyone's just a rock in a desert?
Pulling back to our world, Michelle Yeoh gives one of her strongest performances to date as Evelyn Wang, the perpetually overwhelmed mother who is trying to make it all work. Paired with and against her are Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, her husband and daughter, while Jamie Lee Curtis orbits them all as an IRS auditor who then becomes an agent of chaos herself. Further out in this space, you have the great James Hong at 93 years of age keeping pace with it all and still stealing the scene out from under everyone at all times.
Michelle Yeoh is however at the centre of this multiverse, and her seamless ability to switch from sterling action, heartfelt drama, and outright slapstick comedy is bewildering. Indeed, you get the sense that the role was written solely for her and could not have been performed by anyone else. Everyone else is caught up in the slipstream, though Stephanie Hsu is able to keep pace with her and even surpass her in some scenes too.
Directing duo DANIELS (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) previously helmed bizarre music videos featuring aggressive escalators and the equally odd 'Swiss Army Man' with Paul Dano and a dead-and-farting Daniel Radcliffe, so the idea of them tackling a brain-bending sci-fi action comedy set in the multiverse makes sense in context. Indeed, much of 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' makes complete sense in context. While watching it, you have to latch on to the idea that not everything you see is going to make sense and is very often designed that way. Yet, while it is deliberately crazy, the emotional core of the movie is quite crazily deliberate. Strip away the madness, the multiverse, the kung fu, the sci-fi, and the spinning core of it is that it's a family drama. Think of it like 'The Joy Luck Club' on really strong DMT.
Yet, even that's a little too easy and is something of a disservice. It's not necessarily a movie about the Chinese-American diaspora or the clash of cultures; not really, anyway. Michelle Yeoh's mother is completely accepting of her daughter's lesbian status, and the language barrier is jumped in the first scene. The script slips between English and Cantonese in the blink of an eye and you find you're able to keep up with it all with relative ease. Even if you don't, so what? The whole thing is charging onwards and you'll pick it up somewhere along the way. Rather, 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' is more focused on everything. It's a mother-daughter story. It's a story about acceptance and rejection. It's a story about intergenerational trauma. It's a metaphysical treatise on nihilism. It's a comedy. It's a romance. It's a sci-fi action movie. It's a kung fu movie. It's got everything. It could only be made now, at this moment in time, when audiences are far more savvy and open to deluges of themes and ideas.
That said, the insane pacing and the sharp pivots in tone and theme can prove to be its undoing. Every time it's just about to lock into something, the whole thing spins upside down and inside out. Again, that's kind of the point, but it can often give you total whiplash and can, in the end, be exhausting to watch. Still, with a title like 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' and a concept like this, you have to buy in.
If you want to go to sleep in a cinema for two hours, go watch 'Downton Abbey: A New Era' instead.