Moments of absurdity, emotion-filled, comedic, action packed. This film quite possibly has everything.
A Chinese laundromat owner in America struggles with the balance of her work and family life, especially with her estranged daughter, traditional father, and seemingly weak-willed husband. But when her husband exhibits near inhuman abilities, and suddenly tells her she is the key to saving the multiverse from an all-consuming evil force… Well, her life becomes a lot more complicated.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is directed by the Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) who also directed Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man. That film was, and probably still is, one of the strangest films reviewed on CinemaCocoa. That and the film about the psychic rubber tyre. But their new film certainly is strange, and it still has the surprisingly deep characterisation, but overall feels far more like a complete package than Swiss Army Man did.
Our protagonist is Evelyn, played by the ever-magnetic Michelle Yeoh. We are introduced to her buried in work, receipts, and juggling multiple tasks at once including her rebellious daughter and demanding father. Her tiring day climaxes when face-to-face with her tax evaluator (played wonderfully by Jamie Lee Curtis) she is ripped into a parallel dimension and meets her alternate husband (Ke Huy Quan) who is far from spineless and proceeds to beat the hell out of armed security with nothing but a fanny pack.
The plot revolves around Waymond, Evelyn’s husband’s, other self arriving from the “Alphaverse”, a dimension that invented “verse jumping”; the ability to move across parallel universes and learn skills and abilities your alternate selves had learned. The Alphaverse is attempting to combat an evil presence that is slowly destroyign the entire multiverse, and believe Evelyn to be the key in stopping it.
What follows is an ever escalating series of bizarre events as Evelyn learns (Matrix-style) how to embrace and use the multiverse.
But it isn’t entirely non-stop action, although the pacing is quick; sitting at a run time of 2 hours 20, you won’t notice the time go by. Indeed, the film is surprisingly compelling and extremely emotional. It tackles multiple themes, from nihilism, generational gaps, acceptance, and, rather prominently, the embracing of positives rather than negatives.
The use of the multiverse as well, since we are fresh off the back of Marvel’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, actually aids in character growth and development. The idea that decisions in our lives cause diversions and split dimensions that are slightly (or extremely) different, and these other selves can change our own perspectives. The narrative takes our characters and forces them to look inwards, perhaps the hardest thing someone can do.
Of course, this is juxtaposed with someone unlocking multiverse abilities by using a butt-plug.
Yes, you may read that sentence again if you wish.
The Daniels have an absurdist level of comedy, and Everything Everywhere All At Once is no exception. It does come through most with the “triggers” that characters must do to “verse jump”. These triggers are suitably strange and unorthodox, to be a sort of address in which to access one of millions of universes. One might need you to eat a Chapstick, another might need you to get papercuts between four fingers.
Indeed, the comedy goes from gross-out to almost Monty Python-esque comedy, with the very creative and surreal multiverses we get to see. Unlike Doctor Strange, we actually see several, if not dozens, of different universes.
And yet, we have a compelling set of characters with agency amongst all this craziness, and by the end of the story, it is emotionally moving. It is a relatable story post-Covid 19 pandemic especially; about people who only see the negative learning to see the positives in their situation, and the stark nihilism that has been bred by today’s society. Everything in life is becoming so micro-managed and fast; you cannot see the simple good you can do because you are frustrated by the constant requests modern life asks of you.
So asides from having really solid character development in regards to acceptance and inclusivity, it also has compelling narratives for existence. The struggles of modern living, and the struggles of those around you.
Honestly, one of the best films in a long while. Fun, memorable characters with emotional agency, creative and visually interesting scenes and action sequences, all wrapped in an existential quandary directed at the trapped and the lost.