Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (as Daniels)
Stars: Michell Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Harry Shum jr, Jenny Slate.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh, from Crazy Rich Asians, etc) operates a laundry in Southern California, but is struggling to cope as she attempts to complete her taxes before an audit while juggling a number of family crises. Her downtrodden husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, best known for his role as Short Round in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, in his first major film role in two decades) wants a divorce, while her elderly and conservative father (veteran James Hong), who is visiting from China, disapproves of her daughter Joy’s lesbian relationship.
Evelyn has been advised of irregularities in her tax returns and is struggling to complete her finances before she faces an audit from aggressively hardnosed IRS assessor Deidre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis, in one of the most bizarre roles of her career). On the way up to the meeting in the elevator, Waymond informs Evelyn of the importance of the janitor’s closet, and inside she discovers a multitude of alternate universes, which play out in many ways throughout the film.
Evelyn learns that she can experience infinite lifetimes, which gives her immense power. She absorbs the skills and abilities from other versions of herself, which comes in handy when fighting Deidre and a number of other enemies from different parallel universes. The world is under threat from a mysterious figure known as Jobu Tupaki, and apparently Evelyn is the only person capable of stopping her.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a bit like Sliding Doors meets The Matrix. This is another film that delves into the so-called multiverse where we live out many lives in parallel universes. Parallel universes contain different versions of ourselves and reflect the outcomes of the choices we make. This concept of multiple universes has become increasingly familiar to audiences through The Matrix and recent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Spiderman films, such as the Oscar winning 2018 animated film Spiderman Through The Spiderverse, etc.
A dark, bewildering and surreal action fantasy, this is a mind bending mix of science fiction and martial arts action from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who hail from a background in music videos and are credited collectively as Daniels. This is their second film as a team – they previously made the equally offbeat Swiss Army Man, and they handle the complex nature of the material well. They throw everything at the screen. As expected, the film features lots of CGI and dazzling visual effects that belie the limited budget and resources at their disposal.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a film of interesting ideas and staged with imagination and energy, and deftly edited by Paul Rogers, who won an award at SXSW for his work here, and his choppy kinetic style suits the material. But it may well confuse many in the audience. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Larkin Seiple (who also shot the pair’s Swiss Army Man, etc). Fittingly the film is divided into three chapters, and each one replays some key events from a different perspective giving audiences further insight into the characters and their situation. The film features a great electronic soundtrack with contributions from the likes of David Byrne that adds to the energy.
However, the film is also unnecessarily bloated – did it really need to be 140 minutes long? The first big fight scene between Curtis’ aggressive tax agent and Yeoh goes on far too long and becomes repetitive and boring. A couple of bizarre and surreal sequences will also have audiences scratching their heads, such as the hot dog hands sequence which was silly and unnecessary, while the segment featuring a couple of talking sentient rocks expressing their emotions adds a surreal touch.
The role of Evelyn was originally written for Jackie Chan until the filmmakers decided to change the character’s gender, and Yeoh brings depth to her role here. The film is also laden with lots of meta-references to other films, especially the sci-fi genre, and the movies of Stanley Kubrick and Wong Kar-wai in particular, and includes a subtle acknowledgement of Yeoh’s career in martial arts movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Yeoh’s role here plays to her strengths with plenty of high kicking and frantic kung fu action, but she also reveals a gift for comedic timing. This is a surprising look for Curtis who plays frumpy here – with her overweight and dowdy appearance, her greying hair and slouched posture. Quan is sympathetic as the put-upon Waymond.
Ultimately though for all its grand ideas and frenzied action, this is a film about dysfunctional families and complicated relationships, which gives the material an emotional resonance.
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