One of the more peculiar concepts to catch the zeitgeist of modern culture is the multiverse. The concept that there are an infinite number of alternative realities, some almost indistinguishable from our own, and others quite different, serves as the conceptual foundation of quite a few films. From Doctor Strange’s Multiverse to Spider-Man’s Spider-Verse, there’s something intriguing about the idea that every time you’re faced with a decision, the universe splits into two realities, one where you choose to act and the other where you do not.
In the wildly imaginative and downright weird Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, it’s Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) who faces this confusing multiverse. The matriarch of a working-class Chinese family, she and her feckless, simpering husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) live above their struggling laundromat and are in deep trouble with the IRS. Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has a non-Asian girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) and Evelyn just can’t quite wrap her head around the idea of her daughter being gay. When Joy’s perpetually critical, disappointed father Gong Gong (James Hong), shows up from China for a visit, it’s a recipe for snark, criticism, and chaos.
Far worse is when they head to the IRS office to have yet another meeting with sour, detail-oriented Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), who’s heard it all before and wants to shut down their laundry to get the money owed. But there are greater forces at work, in the shape of an alternate reality version of Waymond who is a cool, hip action hero loaded with gadgets and ready to fight the evil that’s spreading through the multiverse. But he can’t do it alone, he needs Evelyn, she’s “the one”, the woman who is the only person who can possibly defeat the shape-shifting creature and its weapon of multiverse destruction.
Like bashing a barrel of whiskey with a flaming ax, this begins the bizarre, startling, and hilarious multidimensional story, with strange and wacky ideas pouring out of the filmmakers minds as fast as they can capture it on film. You won’t be able to take a restroom break, this is a movie where you really don’t want to miss a single minute of what’s going on, a fast-paced and extraordinary, unbounded journey into the endless possibilities of modern moviemaking.
I won’t hint at any of the multiverses other than to say that while there are lots of laugh-out-loud scenes of hilarity (imagine The Matrix if the Wachowsky’s had dropped acid while writing the screenplay) there are also a couple of cringe-worthy scenes too that prevent it from being a family-friendly movie. If you want to share the film with teens or tweens, I suggest that you see it first so that you’re not startled or upset by a couple of the… weirder… moments.
That said, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, is unlike any film I’ve seen in years, an explosion of cinematic joy and fun that has a surprising heart and human story within. Evelyn started life like so many of us, with boundless dreams that were nipped in the bud from the get-go. There’s a reason her father Gong Gong is in the story, a man who has been endlessly disappointed by her choices and her life. Evelyn behaves similarly to her daughter, the ironically named Joy, but is that who she wants to be? Does she really want to be the shrewish wife who can’t see how devoted Waymond is and how he tries to better their family, even as she cuts him down and humiliates him in front of their friends and family?
This is definitely a movie to see in a movie theater, if for nothing else than to laugh at the reactions of your fellow filmgoers. From the excellent performances throughout to the wry satirical underpinnings and the ingenious and downright weird visual effects, this is a film that deserves a few awards on its mantelpiece. In this universe, not an alternative one. I really enjoyed Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Go see it, you’ll understand.