Released 2022. Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
DESCRIBE THE MOVIE IN ONE WORD? BONKERS. THIS MOVIE IS SO CRAZY that at one point in the story people have hotdogs for fingers. Everything Everywhere All At Once is an outlandish fantasy extravaganza full of sound and fury, pumped on steroid and constantly ridiculous. What else? It is also surprisingly sweet and quietly poignant as you have one hand scratching your head and the other on your chest to steady yourself.
The writing and directing pair Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who label themselves jointly as The Daniels, have created a strange concoction of a movie, energetic and affecting, comical and messy.
EEAAO is not a superhero blockbuster but it seizes on a current hot ticket of the genre: the idea of the multiverse. Same set of characters existing simultaneously in a variety of alternative timelines, each one unaware of the others until they happen to cross paths somehow.
At the centre of this maelstrom is Evelyn Wang, a woman under enormous stress. In the cluttered apartment above the family’s struggling laundromat, Evelyn is faced with a mountain of paperwork for a tax audit, multi-tasking between preparing food, fussing over the Chinese New Year party later that evening, serving customers, dictating instructions to her husband Waymond and attending to her doddering father. That’s not all. Her teenage daughter has plans to come out and Waymond is going to serve her with divorce papers. That’s a lot to deal with in a day for anyone.
“Very busy today, no time to help you!” Brushing away her husband with much annoyance, Evelyn is not aware that Waymond has been taken over by a different version of Waymond from another universe, here to show her how to jump across the timelines because only she alone the woman who is bad at everything can save all the universes from being sucked into a black bagel by Jobu Topacki. Wait, what?
Breathless as a long sentence without comma, the movie tumbles woozily into a labyrinth of scenarios, a multitude of possibilities in Evelyn’s alternative life paths. The main narrative starts to criss-cross between these branches where Evelyn sees the different consequences of the important decisions she makes. What if she’d never married Waymond? What if she’d stay home and never immigrated to America? What if she’d pursued a career in the movies instead? What if she’d taken up martial arts? What if she’d become a chef in a Teppanyaki restaurant?
Running through the backbone of these Sliding Doors moments is something more urgent. Evelyn needs to channel the different skills and knowledge acquired by different versions of herself to defeat Jobu Topacki, the evil personification, who turns out to be a manifestation of Evelyn’s daughter Joy.
As the absurdities pile up you could feel the glee and giddiness in the way the Daniels shuffle their deck of cards. They have a love for slow motion and never miss a chance to make sure we see as much visual gag as humanly possible. Whilst the movie seems to lose its focus in the frenetic pacing and over-emphasis on a kaleidoscopic treatment especially in the first half, the Daniels somehow manage to balance the tonal shifts as smoothly as a magician’s sleight of hand.
When the noise dies down and the hodge-podge distils into a story about a family dealing with dreams and disappointments, Jobu Topacki’s black bagel doesn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t matter what problems you face, what a shit life you have, or if you still wonder what your life could’ve been, do the best you can and that’s the best version of you. This appears to be the preachy part of the movie. But you can dismiss all that and still enjoy the movie as an insane, eye-popping, raucous excess of action and wacky chaos.
The cast dynamic is delightful and full of life, their energy bouncing off each other like a combustion of atomic particles. Returning to acting after we last saw him back in the mid 1980s as a kid in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, Ke Huy Quan knows how to be sad, kind and deadly with a fanny pack. Jamie Lee Curtis looks like the world’s meanest grandma and delivers an amusing performance as a bureaucratic succubus.
The intertwining of comical and physical elements gives emphasis to the comedy part of the movie and Michelle Yeoh’s performance carries a winking nod at the audience, as if to signal she’s in on the joke and so too, should we be. In the whiplash frenzy it’s easy to miss the subtlety and savvy Michelle brings to her performance. You feel that they should have pared back on the feverish action sequences and instead focus more on the family drama.
After all that kicking and punching, including smashing Jamie Lee Curtis head-first through a wall, the idea that optimism and kindness is what saves the day is admittedly cornball and sentimental, but the bucket of cheese-flavoured kernels has its place and moments.
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