The movie about the multiverse is Glorious but Messy.
Despite some intelligent gags, this broadly buzzed-about comedy is an oddly mediocre misfire.
This hipster hype fest is an adventure in alternative existences and multiverse realities from writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the “Daniels.” The man who in 2016 gave us the Jonzeian comedy Swiss Army Man. Everything Everywhere All at Once has been critically swooned over in the U.S. and everywhere else. So it’s disconcerting to find it hyperactive and self-admiring but dull, overdetermined, and laborious.
Evelyn, played by Michelle Yeoh, is a Chinese-American woman who owns a scuzzy laundromat with her husband Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan. Evelyn is discontented with her life and has a tense relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). She is using Joy’s frail and old-fashioned grandfather Gong Gong (James Hong), who lives with them – as an excuse not to accept Joy’s gay identity. Evelyn reaches a crisis when confronted by an angry tax officer, Deirdre Beaubeirdra, who is auditing their business. She is furious about Evelyn’s attempts to claim deductions for a karaoke machine for the laundromat’s community party nights, at which Evelyn also offers food. In her heart, poor Evelyn figures she could have been a singer, chef, or movie star in another life. This tax-deduction issue triggers a crazy journey into any number of universes for more than two hours.
There are some nice gags, sprightly Kubrickian touches, and one genuinely shocking scene. Again, this film is much admired and arrives adorned with saucer-eyed critical notices. I wish I liked it more.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is released in cinemas on 13 May.
But while the hectic action sequences and flights of science-fiction mumbo-jumbo are a big part of the fun (and the marketing), they aren’t the point. Instead, this whirligig runs on tenderness and charm. As in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or Pixar’s “Inside Out,” the antic cleverness serves a sincere and generous heart. Yes, the movie is a metaphysical multiverse galaxy-brain head trip, but deep down — and also right on the surface — it’s a bittersweet domestic drama, a marital comedy, a story of immigrant striving and a hurt-filled ballad of mother-daughter love.
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At the center of it all is Evelyn Wang, played by the great Michelle Yeoh with grace, grit, and perfect comic timing. Evelyn, who left China as a young woman, runs a laundromat somewhere in America with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Her life is its own small universe of stress and frustration. Evelyn’s father (James Hong), who all but disowned her when she married Waymond, is visiting to celebrate his birthday. An I.R.S. audit looms. Waymond is filing for divorce, which he says is the only way he can get his wife’s attention. Their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), has self-esteem issues and also a girlfriend named Becky (Tallie Medel), and Evelyn doesn’t know how to deal with Joy’s teenage angst or her sexuality.
Inside the World of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once
In this mind-expanding, idiosyncratic take on the superhero film, a laundromat owner is the focus of a grand, multiversal showdown.
The first stretch of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is played in a key of almost realism. There are hints of the cosmic chaos to come in the form of ominous musical cues (the score is by Son Lux) and swiveling camera movements (the cinematography is by Larkin Seiple) — but the mundane chaos of Evelyn’s existence provides plenty of drama.
To put it another way, Daniels understands that she and her circumstances are already interesting. The key to “Everything” is that the proliferating timelines and possibilities, though full of danger and silliness, don’t so much represent an alternative to reality’s drabness as an extension of its complexity.
Michelle Yeoh’s Insane Multiverse Comedy Lives Up to Its Name
Things start to get glitchy as Waymond and Evelyn approach their dreaded meeting with Deirdre, an I.R.S. bureaucrat played with impeccable unpleasantness by Jamie Lee Curtis. Waymond — until now a timid, nervous fellow — turns into a combat-ready space commando, wielding his fanny pack as a deadly weapon. He hurriedly explains to Evelyn that the stability of the multiverse is threatened by a power-mad fiend named Jobu Tupaki and that Evelyn must train herself to jump between universes to do battle. The leaps are accomplished by doing something crazy and then pressing a button on an earpiece. The tax office turns into a scene of martial-arts mayhem. Eventually, Jobu Tupaki shows up and turns out to be.
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You’ll see for yourself. And I hope you do. The Daniels’ command of modern cinematic tropes is encyclopedic and also eccentric. As Evelyn zigzags through various universes, she finds herself in a live-action rip-off of “Ratatouille,”; a smoky sendup of Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood For Love”; a world where humans have hot dogs for fingers and play the piano with their feet; and a child’s birthday party where she is a piñata. That is a small sampling. The philosophical foundation for this zaniness is the notion that every choice Evelyn (and everyone else) has made in her life was an unwitting act of cosmogenesis. The roads not taken blossom into new universes. The world without end.
‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Review: It’s Glorious but Messy.
The metaphysical high jinks turn out to rest on a sturdy moral foundation. To say nothing of her own family, the multiverse may lie beyond Evelyn’s control. Still, she possesses free will, which means responsibility for her obligations and actions towards the people around her. As her adventures grow more elaborate, she seems at first to be one of those solitary, quasi-messianic movie heroes. “The one” who has the power to face down absolute evil.
Yeoh certainly has the necessary charisma, but “Everything Everywhere” is about something other than the usual heroics. Nobody is alone in the multiverse, which is a place where families can work on their issues. And while you are likely to be tickled and dazzled by the visual variety and whiz-bang effects. You may be surprised to find yourself moved by the performances. Quan, a child star in the 1980s, has an almost Chaplinesque ability to swerve from clownishness to pathos. Hsu strikes every note in the Gen-Z songbook with perfect poise. And don’t sleep on grandpa: Hong nearly steals the show.
Is it perfect? No movie with this kind of premise — or that title — will ever be a neat, no-loose-ends kind of deal. Maybe it goes on too long. Maybe it drags in places or spins too frantically in others. But I like my multiverses messy, and if I say that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is too much. It’s a way of acknowledging the Daniels’ generosity.