There’s so much going on in Everything Everywhere All at Once—and it goes on so relentlessly, and for so long—that after a while a kookiness overload begins to weigh it down. Once you’ve absorbed the wild fanny-pack smackdown, the marauding bagel, and the sight of a monstrous Jamie Lee Curtis tearing down a door, you may be a little too tuckered to maintain excitement for the movie’s other oddities—the puppy-flinging, the butt-plugging, the floppy hot-dog-fingered hands. The uproar feels endless.
It is not entirely surprising that this is a picture by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who write and direct together under the name Daniels. Their debut feature, the 2016 Swiss Army Man—the story of a fart-propelled corpse, played by Daniel Radcliffe—was no run-of-the-mill affair either. But Everything is vastly more complex—or complicated, anyway. The motivating notion is that every choice made by every human being creates a “branching universe”—an alternate reality in which every rejected possibility takes root and flourishes, independent of the originating human’s existence, which of course continues on.
This unsuspected multiverse is revealed one day to a frazzled Chinese-American woman named Evelyn Wang (the ageless Hong Kong action queen Michelle Yeoh). Evelyn runs a coin-op laundry in suburban LA with her husband, Waymond (onetime Goonie and Indiana Jones sidekick Ke Huy Quan), her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and, at the moment, her ancient father, Gong Gong (the great James Hong). Things aren’t going well for the Wangs. There are tax troubles, for one thing, and Waymond wants a divorce. During a dismal visit to an IRS office, something strange happens. Evelyn is riding up in an elevator with Waymond when he suddenly morphs into another person—well, another Waymond. This version of her husband tells Evelyn that she’s in the crosshairs of “a great evil”—an entity called Jobu Tupaki. He warns her to be careful. “I’ve seen you die a thousand ways,” he says.
Evelyn soon finds herself whipping through dimensions on a madly edited tour of all the alternative lives she might have lived, but didn’t. We see her wielding a scary-big knife at a Benihana-style steakhouse, and swanning around at the glittery premiere of a new martial arts movie in which she stars. There’s also a Bollywood universe, and some kind of pizza world, and—one of the film’s most endearing interludes—a world with no people in it at all: only a pair of rocks snuggling on a slope. In the midst of all this interdimensional chaos, Evelyn checks in with the original Waymond: “I saw my life without you,” she says. “It was beautiful.”
Given the movie’s crazed pace, which is exhausting over the course of more than two hours, its unexpected tenderness comes as a surprise. We see the waxing and waning of love and the sometimes trying dynamics of families, and can only marvel at the absence of hipster detachment with which they’re presented. This is a movie without an ounce of cynicism in its narrative bones. (On the other hand, those in search of timeless human truths might wish there were more here than “You have to be kind” and “We can do whatever we want, nothing matters.”)
One of the picture’s most admirable achievements is its provision—at last—of a true starring role for the great Michelle Yeoh, an incandescent screen presence who has been making films for nearly 40 years now. Long may she continue to reign.
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