Starting with its title and ending at infinity, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a “more is more” kind of movie that looks as if it was designed to be the last word in multiverse sci-fi.
The plot is Matrix-shaped – nobody becomes somebody – but instead of a young dumb male as its protagonist, it’s a middle aged smart female, in the shape of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a drudge of a wife, mother, carer for her elderly father who’s just been served with divorce papers by her fairly useless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan).
And instead of being hunted by a sleek, black-clad, sunglasses-wearing Agent Smith, Evelyn and family are being pursued by tax auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), an officious jobsworth who dresses in crimplene and polyester, her over-urgent breasts and pendulous stomach topped off with a fierce bob and comedy spectacles.
The opening scene starts off at a fierce pace, with Evelyn and Waymond switching languages from English to Mandarin, switching subjects, constantly in motion. Even before the multiverse stuff gets going this is a busy, frenetically paced movie which looks like it’s going to be an energetic family drama. But then, at the tax office, it becomes apparent that Deirdre might be deadly in more than one way, and that there are parallel universes to be taken into consideration. An epic, kung fu flickerbook of reality-jumping surreal Christopher Nolan-esque plotting takes wing which is impossible to describe in full, but let’s just say that in one of the alternative universes Deirdre and Evelyn have hot dogs for fingers, which is something you can’t imagine in a Nolan movie.
The script was originally written with Jackie Chan in mind, but got reconfigured somewhere along the way and maybe that’s a good thing. Yeoh is ideally suited to the central role as the woman who discovers she’s a woman of many parts, and persons. It’s a showcase for someone with range – Jackie Chan is many things but an actor with range is not one of them – and Yeoh plays well against Curtis, who throws caution to the wind in a role that seems designed to mock her early years as “The Body”.
Talking of early years, aged 13 Ke Huy Quan was the kid Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and has troubled the IMDb very little since, but is also inspired casting as the dweeby Waymond – who in at least one of the different realities is much more your 007 type. Inspired because this film feels like it’s been designed to get geeks discussing histories and timelines and paradoxes and what such and such a moment really meant until the crack of doom.
There are a thousand visual jokes, the special effects are cheap but effective, the filmic allusions range from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to Wong Kar Wei’s In the Mood for Love though behind it all is the sense that this is the sort of film that Stephen Chow might once have had a go at, though he’s barely done anything since the days of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.
Instead it’s Daniels (as Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert bill themselves), the film-making writer/directors who gave Daniel Radcliffe a role that suited him in Swiss Army Man, a similarly mad and eclectically referential piece of left-field comicbook fun.
As Jamie Lee Curtis pointed out on one of the social media outlets, this isn’t a big budget movie and yet it accomplishes an awful lot with limited resources. The special effects team is only nine strong and yet at various moments the action is shifting between one multiverse and others maybe ten times a second.
You can pick a hole if you want to. What happened to the storyline in which Evelyn’s daughter Joy is revealed as an evil genius mastermind with domination of the entire universe as her goal? Pick away.
Everything Everywhere All at Once – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
© Steve Morrissey 2022