Saturday, March 19, 2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022): A Review


I confess to struggling with the title of Everything Everywhere All at Once. The movie, on the other hand, is surprisingly simple despite the seemingly whacked-out premise. A film that works on two levels, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a wild, frenetic ride that while perhaps long is still funny, action-packed and heartwarming.

Harried launderette owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is facing a myriad of issues on this day. She is being audited by the IRS for various business expenses; she has her father Gong Gong's (James Hong) birthday party to finalize, a party to which her openly lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) wants to bring her girlfriend Becky to. She also is unaware her husband Wayne (Ke Huy Quan) is filing for divorce. 

Evelyn is at the IRS office, and while the sardonic auditor Diedre (Jamie Lee Curtis) is curtly dismissing a karaoke machine as a business expense, Evelyn finds herself amidst the most surreal and insane mission. Wayne insists he is really another version of Wayne from another universe, and that this Evelyn, from this universe, has to summon the resources of the other Evelyns from other universes to defeat the villain Jobu Tobaky. Jobu can see "everything, everywhere, all at once", making her dangerous.

It is unfortunate that Jobu Tobaky has the form of Joy. As Evelyn struggles between this universe and the other multiverses crashing hither and yon, she glimpses what the other Evelyns did if they had taken different routes from the path she took. Eventually, the Evelyn from this universe finds the strength to save her world.

Everything Everywhere All at Once pushes things between silly and sincere, bouncing from a world where mankind developed hot dogs for fingers to where mankind evolved into rocks that can talk without speaking. The movie excellently shifts from people laughing at poor Evelyn being overwhelmed by the mad goings-on and almost tearing up when alternate Evelyns see that different roads would not have brought her happiness.

At heart, Everything Everywhere All at Once, stripped of its wild even crazed action sequences, is about accepting life as it is versus how one would have wanted it to be. It uses the trappings of science fiction and action to deliver a moving message: life is indeed what one makes of it. 

Writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Schienert (who style themselves "The Dans") are sharp in how they crafted the film. The ironically named 'Joy', the mixing of humor and pathos (Evelyn telling Wayne she should have rejected him being funny and sad) and the blending of the various multiverses all work to make this a surprisingly optimistic story.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is about the choice to give in to fatalism, apathy and hopelessness (which Jobu Tobaky/Joy does) and maintaining a hope that this world, this life still has moments of genuine happiness (as the gentle Wayne insists). The film puts these surprisingly deep ideas about existentialism vs. optimism within a wild series of action pieces and out-of-this-world locales.

The performances were all excellent. Michelle Yeoh is an international treasure, and Everything Everywhere All at Once gives her perhaps her greatest showcase to reveal the exceptional talent she is. It certainly gives her a chance to showcase her action prowess, but it also gives her moments of comedy and drama to which reveal an actress. Whether expressing confusion to irritation at having to be dragged into this lunacy or showing the glamourous film star from another multiverse regretting her lost love, Yeoh dominates the film with a delightful brilliance.

Quan too balances the more comedic elements of the slightly bumbling Wayne with the more action-oriented Alpha Wayne. He even is allowed to show a more elegant side when he is the suave Wayne in another multiverse. Hsu mostly kept to one mode (sullen) but given that was the character it was a good turn. It is also wonderful to see the living legend Hong get in on the action, playing both villain and gentle. Curtis was wild as one of Jobu Tobaki's figures, astonished at what she can do as an action figure.

There were elements that I did not think were necessary, making Everything Everywhere All at Once long. While I got the Ratatouille/Racoon-Tootie joke, I did not think it was necessary (for the record, I have not seen Ratatouille but know the gist of the plot). The elements around Diedre's awards to my mind were vulgar and unnecessary. I know the audience found it funny, but I found it coarse. 

Minor points though, as Everything Everywhere All at Once was simultaneously wild, funny, adventurous and remarkably moving.


2023 Best Picture Winner: 

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