It seems that this year’s trend is the multiverse. We’ve already had Spider-Man: No Way Home; last week, Doctor Strange entered the Multiverse of Madness and later this year, we have another Spider-Man movie with the second in the Spider-verse saga. This week, however, we have a film with no connection to Marvel, with a tiny budget compared to the enormous studios’ output and manages to show that you can make a mind-boggling, original, funny take on the world. It also works to outdo Doctor Strange’s title with Everything Everywhere All at Once. If you can handle the story’s complexities and the dazzling technical filmmaking, you are in for a real treat.
Evelyn Wang is a woman who runs a laundry but is struggling with her family life. Her mild-mannered husband, Waymond, wants a divorce; her father is increasingly difficult to look after. Her daughter, Joy, has never been easy for Evelyn to show love to, and she cannot seem to accept her relationship with Becky, but her life could change when a visit to the tax office propels her into a multiverse. She is the only woman who can tap into various versions of herself from across the universe to stop a war going on for centuries and stop the all-powerful Jobu Tupaki.
This moves away from wizards and magic, directed with vigour by the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, whose previous work was the equally bizarre Swiss Army Man). Instead, throws in pop culture and impressive set pieces, with mixed martial arts, wirework and sharp-eyed editing, take us on a journey where a seemingly ordinary woman is the answer to a lifelong conflict between universes and interplanetary worlds.
The Daniels use the idea of a woman who can connect with her other-selves by an action to use their specific skills. This brings plenty of comic possibilities as she calls out that she loves one of her enemies or has to pee herself to escape peril. We jump from one world to another as the first part introduces the world of Evelyn, being just as confused as the audience as we witness her quietly spoken husband turn into a nunchucks-welding warrior (replacing the nunchucks with a bumbag). She skips to various lands, taking on the forms of a chef, a pizza-sign welder and even a rock (in one of the most heartbreaking moments of the movie). This confusion adds humour, excitement and even a sense of tragedy.
The film really succeeds in the impressive fight sequences, where Evelyn, who looks like she would hurt a fly, turns into a martial arts expert, recalling shades of old Jackie Chan movies. Each punch, each kick is heightened with slapstick comedy reminiscent of the kind you’d have seen in Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. The Daniels also pokes fun at 2001 and even Ratatouille. At the same time, they keep everything grounded by following themes of love, family and the often tricky relationship between a mother and her daughter, and the dangers of not doing your taxes correctly.
The performances are terrific, with screen legend James Hong as Gong Gong, the grandfather who still has a trick up his sleeve. Stephanie Hsu is great as Joy, the daughter with more than a bit of attitude. Jamie Lee Curtis, almost unrecognisable, is obviously having a blast as the tax officer, Deirdre, while it’s good to see Ke Huy Quan back on the screen as Waymond. I spent most of the film trying to work out where I had seen him before until the penny dropped, as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
In the role of Evelyn, Michelle Yeoh excels. She has always been a watchable actress and can handle action sequences in films like Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Recently, she has ended up playing the matriarch, but here she can throw herself into a dramatically impressive role and handle the action scenes with aplomb. It hopefully will propel her back to leads where she belongs.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to be pushed as an audience, given visual tricks and treats, and stick with this world, you will be given one of the best experiences in a cinema this year. Be prepared to spend your time scratching your head with hot dogs for fingers. An absolute blast that even manages to out marvel Marvel.
5 out of 5
Directors: Daniels (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert)
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate
Written by: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Running Time: 139 mins
Release date: 13th May 2022