Everything Everywhere All at Once – Film Review

The last film I watched in 2022, this inventive and eccentric mind trip is, at heart, a bittersweet and moving family drama thrown in a blender with hectic action sequences and absurdist multiverse wackiness.

Evelyn Wang (the great Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese immigrant who left home for the USA as a young woman, is living in a small but permanently stressed-out universe. The laundromat business that she runs with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is due for an I.R.S. audit. Her stern father, who never approved of their marriage, is paying a visit from China. Waymond, tired of being neglected and ignored by Evelyn, is filing for divorce. Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is a ball of teenage angst and self-esteem issues, and also has a girlfriend that Evelyn doesn’t really know how to deal with, especially with her conservative father around.

This alone would have been a solid basis for an inter-generational drama about the immigrant experience, mothers and daughters, daughters and fathers, husbands and wives, and the first stretch of the film is indeed grounded in the mundane chaos of everyday existence. Things take a weird turn when Evelyn and Waymond have their dreaded meeting with an I.R.S. agent named Deirdre (barely recognisable Jamie Lee Curtis who clearly has fun playing a genuinely unpleasant bureaucrat).

All of a sudden, Evelyn’s meek and timid husband transforms into a combat-ready special agent, who opens Evelyn’s mind to the myriads of alternate universes, created by every single life choice ever made. In one such universe, the Alphaverse, Evelyn was a brilliant scientist who developed verse-jumping technology, which allows people to access the memories, skills and bodies of their selves from parallel universes. But now, Alpha-Waymond explains, the stability of the multiverse is threatened by a malevolent fiend named Jobu Tupaki, a being of pure chaos. It is now up to Laundromat-Evelyn to master the verse-jumping, and fight back against the evil that threatens the very existence of everything everywhere.

What follows is a messy, frantic, perhaps overlong but incredibly exhilarating ride that samples from every genre under the sun and yet miraculously never collapses in on itself. It would be exhausting to list every zany thing that happens in the movie, when it throws them onscreen with the speed of a tennis ball launcher. There are martial arts brawls with a humble bum bag as a lethal weapon. There are detours into a world where humans have sausages for fingers, and one that riffs on Disney’s Ratatouille (with a racoon instead of a rat). Evelyn gets to visit the universes where she’s all the things she ever dreamed of being: a glamorous action-movie star, an opera singer, a chef. The more she sees, the more she comes to regret the life choices that had led to her humdrum existence in this verse.

While the first half of the movie is breathless fun, it really clicked with me during its more existential second half, which explores the ways to combat nihilism and lack of meaning, and really tugs on those familial ties established earlier on. Without spoiling anything, there are scenes with two talking rocks out in the desert that probably made a few people cry, a sentence I never imagined I’d type out.

The choice to centre the movie around a middle-aged woman, rather than a typical young Chosen One destined to defeat a great evil, was a stroke of genius, and Michelle Yeoh is more than up to the task of carrying the film and bringing Evelyn’s many lives to life with grace, physical grit and impeccable comic timing. But the movie is also very much an ensemble and all supporting players get a chance to steal the show. It’s probably not a movie for everyone’s taste, but I absolutely loved its melange of imagination, silliness, joyful genre-hopping, action fireworks, emotional family drama and excellent performances.

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