“Everything Everywhere All At Once”: Refreshing Indie Take on the Multiverse
The coronavirus pandemic is over, and more moviegoers are returning to the show. Blockbusters like Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Batman are filling the seats at cinemas that were operating at limited capacity before governments began lifting pandemic-era restrictions. This, along with the news of Alamo Drafthouse expanding and AMC reopening closed theaters from other chains, gives me hope about the state of the movie business. Independent cinema is also bouncing back. The latest from A24, the risk-taking company behind such films as Hereditary, Lady Bird, and Best Picture-winner Moonlight, is the funny and bizarre Everything Everywhere All At Once.
The movie is about a Chinese immigrant, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), who operates a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) in Simi Valley, California. Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) wants her parents to be accepting of her romantic relationship, but Evelyn worries about breaking the news to her traditionalist father (James Hong) who is staying with them. Evelyn is stressed because the family business is having tax issues. On top of that, her husband is seeking a divorce. The American dream doesn’t seem to be happening for Evelyn.
While the Wangs are being serviced at the IRS office by a frumpy agent (the hilarious Jamie Lee Curtis) bent on punishing them for their tax woes, forces from all over the multiverse descend upon the office. Evelyn learns that she is just one of many Evelyns, and she must harness the abilities of the other Evelyns to fight off the agents of Jobu Tupaki, an entity with the likeness of her daughter, and to stop the destruction of the multiverse.
Directed by Dan Kawn and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once is an imaginative and kinetic meta-movie that stands as a fine example of a film in the several genres it pays tribute to. It features strange but well-choreographed fight sequences that provide thrills and laughs. I didn’t know I needed to see Waymond fight off bad guys with a fanny pack or watch a pet owner (Jenny Slate) attack Evelyn with her dog while attached to its leash, but I’m glad I did.
It’s also apparent that the filmmakers also care for their cast and put their talents on full display. Michelle Yeoh, a veteran of Hong Kong martial arts movies, handles her scenes with grace and remains mesmerizing to watch in action. As Evelyn, the small business owner, she plays it straight, and she maintains the straight woman role through all the film’s odd scenarios. Even after learning about the multiverse and exercising her acquired skills, Evelyn is still a woman under stress whose main goal is to preserve her family and livelihood. It’s just too bad the IRS and a rift in the multiverse are getting in the way of her thriving.
Ke Huy Quan, best remembered as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, makes a triumphant return to acting as Waymond and gives the best performance of his career. Like Yeoh, he plays it straight as his character is also trying to navigate life’s difficulties. The prolific character actor James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), who just received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, plays for laughs and succeeds as comic relief. At 93 years old, this role is a great swan song to a distinguished career.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a refreshing change of pace from the franchise-driven stuff Hollywood has been pushing on us for this past while. It’s tender and has depth. Beyond being bizarre, the film is also the story of strengthening the bonds of family and shows the struggles that many small business owners face. Daniels, as Kwan and Scheinert are credited, are bold, young filmmakers that I look forward to seeing more from. If they can pull this film off for $25 million, I wonder what kind of weird stuff they can conjure up on an actual Hollywood budget.