A film review by Craig J. Koban July 13, 2022

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE jjj

2022, R, 139 mins.

Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang  /  Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki  /  James Hong as Gong Gong  /  Jonathan Ke Quan as Waymond Wang  /  Jamie Lee Curtis as Deirdre Beaubeirdra  /  Anthony Molinari as Police - Confetti  /  Jenny Slate as Big Nose  /  Andy Le as Alpha Jumper - Bigger Trophy  /  Brian Le as Alpha Jumper - Trophy  /  Daniel Scheinert as District Manager  /  Harry Shum Jr. as Chad  /  Boon Pin Koh as Maternity Doctor

Written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is an incredibly apt title if there ever was one.  

Just about everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in for good measure here: It contains elements of black comedy, fantasy, science fiction, martial arts, animation, and a whole hell of a lot of rampant absurdity and visual chaos.  The film comes from the equally absurd minds of writer/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively referred to as the "Daniels"), whom you may or may not recall made one of the strangest films that I certainly have ever seen in 2016's SWISS ARMY MAN (which featured Paul Dano's marooned character befriending Daniel Ratcliffe's chronically flutulating corpse).  EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE isn't quite as -  shall we say - disgustingly novel as that previous Daniels' effort, but it does contain a career high performance by the legendary Michelle Yeoh playing a laundry matt owner that's facing two dire predicaments: (a) she's being audited by the IRS and might have to shut her business down and (b) she develops the ability to traverse through multiple universes and is tasked with stopping an all-powerful being from destroying every universe.   

The tax audit is almost as intimidating and frightening. 

The Daniels break up their freakishly unhinged and perpetually lively film into three parts delineated by on-screen chapter headings.  In the opening scenes we meet Yeoh's Southern Californian residing Evelyn Wang, who runs that aforementioned laundry matt with her seemingly meek and mild mannered husband in Waymond (Ke Huy Quan...and yes...that same one that played Harrison Ford's child sidekick in INDIANA JONES IN THE TEMPLE OF DOOM all those decades ago).  Things are fairly chaotic for the already stressed out couple.  Firstly, Evelyn's father (the legendary and wily James Hong) is flying in from China to help celebrate the new year (he has a long and complicated history with his daughter).  Secondly, Evelyn's grown-up daughter Eleanor (Stephanie Hsu) wants to introduce her parents to her new girlfriend, which is putting the very traditional minded family on edge.  Thirdly, the IRS has been swimming through the family business in a long and arduous audit, leaving Evelyn and Waymond struggling to gather up every receipt they've accumulated over the last several years to provide to a icy cold audit agent (a scenery chewing Jamie Lee Curtis), who seems hell bent on making their lives a living hell.  The agent's name is a real mouthful - Diedre Beaubeirdra - and she seems to relish at her client's squirm-inducing panic.   

On one routine trip to the IRS office something extremely odd begins to happen.  Waymond begins to act very strange, drags Evelyn into a nearby broom closest, puts a weird Bluetooth headset on her ear, hits a few buttons, and hurtles her into another dimension.  Equally shocking to her is the revelation that the multiverse is being threatened by a powerful being known as Jobu Tupaki, whose unlimited godlike abilities are poised to destabilize...well...everything everywhere all at once...and permanently.  Oh, and Jobu is systematically hunting down an infinite number of different Evelyns from thousands of other universes, with some of them being a chef or a movie star or (crucially) a kung fu dynamo, depending on the universe in question, of course.  Added into the mix is that all of her loved ones have alternate versions of themselves as well that are scattered the multiverse over, and in order to finally defeat Jobu and bring balance and order to the multiverse Evelyn will have to learn and command her newfound universe leaping powers and seek out the film's omnipotent MacGuffin.  

SPOILER ALERT: It's a giant mystical bagel, and let me be clear that this is the least bonkers thing in this already massively bonkers epic. 

 

 

There's so much going on in EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE: Its ambitiousness is only outweighed by its limitless (and mostly infectious) preposterousness at times.  It starts quaintly enough as a tale of domestic woes between a wife and her soon-to-be-divorced hubby, not to mention a fairly involving examination of an immigrant family trying as they can to get their piece of the American dream, albeit with multiple obstacles being thrown in their way.  When the concept of the multiverse gets injected into the script that's when all bets are off in terms of predictability, and the Daniels are definitely not guilty here of making a contrived and formulaic picture where one can see where it's heading at any moment.  The notion of the multiverse means that they can give us so many different permutations of these characters, and it's also here where the film contains some sly meta referencing.  When we meet a Hollywood celebrity iteration of Evelyn it's clearly referencing Yeoh's real-life stature as a martial arts superstar in her storied career.  James Hong's appearance in one version as a sneaky and sinister agent of mayhem has clear cut echoes of his work in films like BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.  Then there's Ke Huy Quan, who essentially retired from acting decades ago and became a respected movie stunt coordinator.  When one of his multiverse selves is an astoundingly dexterous and deadly martial arts master that can turn anything into a deadly weapon it serves multiple wink-wink callbacks.  And Quan is a giddy delight in this film from beginning to end; he has never missed an acting beat since he left the profession. 

The action scenes are pretty sensationally engineered and executed, especially when the multiverse becomes an entity in the story and - in one highly innovative sequence - an entire IRS office morphs into a massive battleground between gravity defying heroes and villains alike.  These fight scenes were choreographed by by Andy and Brian Le under the watchful eye of cinematographer Larkin Seiple, and they all work in tandem to present these ballets of fist and feet flying with an editorial grace and in majestic wide shots that are not cut away from every millisecond like oh-so-many action pictures these days.  But the Daniels are not just trying to make a perfunctory chopsocky spectacle here; they have a clear cut vision for the underlining metaphysical grandness of their multiverse premise and all of the deliciously madcap possibilities that it contains.  And, man, there's so much nuttiness on display here:  Characters eat lipbalm on impulse; one woman uses a small Pomeranian as a leashed weapon like nunchucks; one adversary of Evelyn's makes bizarre usage of giant buttplugs to energize his martial arts skills; one universe has people with hotdogs for fingers and in another one versions of Evelyn and company are nothing but rocks on a mountain top (thankfully, we get subtitles so we can partake in their dialogue exchanges during these moments).  

I can't remember, but did I mention that everyone is seeking out a universe destroying giant bagel? 

So much of this contains such an explosion of untapped imagination and playfulness that it can verge on the danger zone of pure auditory-visual overkill.  With so much unfiltered pandemonium on screen all the time it becomes a chore at times to get seriously invested in the small moments of intimate drama between the characters.  The laughs are assuredly here in abundance, not to mention that wide-eyed wow factor of seeing the sheer outpouring of conceptual derring-do on display, but - as was the case with other multiverse films that I've seen as of late - it can also come off as distractingly overwhelming and exhausting at times.  That, and because the multiverse is so unfathomably vast and varied and that literally anything is possible at the drop of a hat it all but renders the emotional stakes (and any amount of intended story tension) null and void.  It's hard to have story and character stakes in films of this ilk because if one gets bumped off then - POOF! - another can be conjured up in a jiffy.  Not assisting matters is the film's egregiously long running time, and at nearly two and half hours the film starts to grind its repetitive wheels too much for its own good.  The fun and fancy free energy of EVERYONE EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE can only be maintained for so long, and I think a better version of this film exists that's thirty minutes shorter.   

I can't complain too much that the Daniels veer too much towards overkill and overload.  Throughout all of the unfettered madness peppering this film there remains a fairly touching story arc of Evelyn's troubled family past, her struggles to become a self-actualized and independent minded businesswomen, and some of her deeply rooted regrets in life that impeded her path to true meaning and security.  I also admired how EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is a female driven fantasy action picture that just so happens to also contain female heroes, heroes of color, and heroes of a much older age than most Hollywood genre pictures are willing to include these days.  And what a wonderful thing it is to see the 59-year-old Yeoh and the 63-year-old Curtis be fully let lose in this wickedly slaphappy and over the top world.  I found Curtis to be such an unrelenting bore in the last HALLOWEEN picture that it was so refreshing to witness her shed all inhibitions to ham it up with reckless glee here.  And then there's Yeoh herself, who's perhaps a finer actress than many have given her credit for over the years, which is perhaps due to her titanic street cred in martial arts action flicks of the past (granted, rightfully deserved cred).  She gives such a full bodied performance here that has to tap into the dramatic, comedic, and overtly physical aspects on her protagonist, and she's the crucial grounded anchor that keeps us invested her existentialist despair throughout the film, even when it does go off the rails at times and threatens to subvert everything else.  

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE goes to the limit (and beyond) to win over audiences, but sometimes self-indulgently so and to the point that some viewers might find it endurance testing.  However, if you're willing to willfully submit yourself to the Daniels' unique brand of outlandish genre mishmashing and devil-may-care innovative friskiness then you'll be in for quite a treat.  You just might not seek out a bagel for breakfast soon after seeing it...or a hotdog for that matter.    

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