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‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ a multiversal masterpiece

April 18, 2022
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A movie comes along that is accompanied with massive amounts of hype. Maybe it’s a critical darling, maybe it’s a commercial blockbuster, maybe it’s something in the middle, but one thing is clear – people are singing its praises early and often. And loudly.

As a rule, these films tend to be excellent offerings, though perhaps not quite clearing the exceedingly high bar that has been set for them by the discourse. Occasionally, they prove to be something of a disappointment, leaving you wondering what so many people saw in them.

But every once in a while, you get something that actually manages to outperform your already massive expectations. You get a film that is somehow even better than the people shouting its quality from the rooftops have led you to believe. You get a movie that is unlike anything you’ve seen before in the very best of ways.

You get “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The film – written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking team known collectively as Daniels – is a phantasmagoric experience, a genre-blending adventure that digs into the collective human experience and celebrates the underlying possibilities that unfold with every decision that we make. It is incredibly smart and wildly entertaining, packed with humor and action and heartfelt emotion.

This is the sort of movie that essentially dares you to describe it. It is a roiling tumult of narrative complexity and naked feeling, swirled together into a visually stunning mélange that again – and I can’t stress this enough – is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It is vibrant and vivid and unabashedly weird, powered by the bizarre beauty of its aesthetic and some utterly captivating performances.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a Chinese-American woman who owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Stressors abound at the moment. She’s facing an IRS audit due to some irregularities with her filing. She’s struggling to accept the relationship between her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and Joy’s girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel). Her father Gong Gong (James Hong) – whose approval she has always struggled to find – has just arrived from China. Oh, and Waymond has taken out papers to file for divorce.

So yeah – it’s a lot.

But on the day that she, Waymond and Gong Gong go to the IRS office to plead their case, something strange happens. In the elevator, there’s a sudden shift, and Waymond is somehow no longer the same person. He tells her that there are other decisions that she must make and writes down seemingly nonsensical instructions for her to follow before snapping back to his old self.

In the midst of an antagonistic meeting with an IRS agent named Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is drawn to the instructions she’s been given and starts to follow them. And just like that … everything changes.

Evelyn finds herself in another space, face to face with a man who is both Waymond and not Waymond. Specifically, he is the Waymond from another universe, who has come to enlist Evelyn in a multiverse-spanning battle against an incredibly powerful chaos agent whose actions may well mean the end of everything. Literally everything. And by accessing the lives, memories and skills of all the other Evelyns in the multiverse, she might be the one person who can save reality.

And … actually, you know what? Let’s leave it there. There’s a lot more plot. A LOT more. But “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a movie that is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. Sure, you can say that about a fair number of films, but for this one, it is absolutely true. The cleaner, the better.

Among the many impressive aspects of this film is that it manages to be thematically dense and narratively complex while also operating very simply. Sounds counterintuitive, but even as you’re wrapped up in the layers upon layers of expression and metaexpression, the fundamental truths of the story being told remain utterly, engagingly clear.

The multiversal nature of the story allows “Everything Everywhere All at Once” to live up to its title. The film exists in a state of nigh-constant tonal and stylistic flux. Basically, you’re watching a different type of movie from moment to moment, with the filmmakers exploring all manner of different genres and concepts, shifting among them with a rapidity and abruptness that is somehow both jarring and smooth at the same time. It’s a cracked-mirror reflection of what it means to be human in terms that balance the ridiculous and the sublime.

There’s a reckless abandon to this film’s ambition that could easily have resulted in a tangled, incoherent mess. Instead, thanks to the deft eyes and explicit visions of Daniels, we get a dense and absurd celebration of love and connection and the power that choices can have over both the now and the later. Borrowing liberally from a vast and varied catalog of influences, they have crafted something that transcends pastiche, grafting together these disparate elements into a film that is both celebratory of its influences and utterly and uniquely itself. The action set pieces, the emotional intimacy, the multitude of sight and/or spoken gags – it coalesces into something off-kilter and oddly stunning.

Michelle Yeoh is an incredible talent, one whose abilities are often underestimated by American audiences. Her performance at the center of this movie is one of the primary reasons it works; she brings a lithe physicality, an emotional openness and an expressive fearlessness to every frame of the film. She is PRESENT, in a way that so few actors are able to be. The demands placed upon her would overwhelm all but the most gifted of performers … so it’s a good thing that she is possessed of such gifts.

Yeoh isn’t alone, however. Quan is asked to undergo myriad shifts throughout the film, playing endless variations on a theme. He accomplishes these shifts with smooth grace and subtlety, capturing the differences and bringing them forward without flaunting them. His gentleness is in many ways the soul of the film. Hsu is tasked with a lot in this film as Joy’s character evolves; she is asked to change gears with an abrupt intensity that must have been almost impossible to pull off … and yet she did so. She stands toe-to-toe with Yeoh throughout, running the gamut from heartfelt to humorous to rageful to remorseful, pushing and pulling with just the right combination of force and restraint. Curtis absolutely crushes her role throughout – the less said, the better, but know that she is incredible here. Ditto Hong, who is an absolute treasure and deserves to be considered as such.

I kept hearing from all corners about how great “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was. And yet somehow, it managed to be even better than I was led to believe. We simply don’t see this kind of weird and thoughtful ambition realized at this scale anymore – this movie’s mere existence is remarkable enough. For it to be a masterpiece as well? Astonishing.

I laughed. I wept. I cheered and I sobbed. As accurate as the film’s title might be, it even more accurately described the breadth of my feelings after experiencing it.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 18 April 2022 11:53

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