Everything Everywhere All at Once



Main Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan

Directors: Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan

All of you darling fans, I am so sorry to have been absent from your humdrum lives for the last few weeks.  I suppose I do owe an explanation.  Shortly after writing my last column, I began to feel unwell with a fever and sore throat.  Assuming that I might have this Covid thing that everyone keeps talking about, I immediately quarantined myself in the cerulean blue guest suite on the third floor of Condo Maine, had all my meals sent up on a tray, and began the process of aromatherapy and crystals that have carried me through such bouts in the past. 

diamond necklace pixabay
My favorite healing crystals.

Unfortunately, I did not improve and soon developed a rather nasty pustular rash.  I immediately called my personal physician, Dr. Andrew, who alerted the CDC and before I knew it, my lovely home was being invaded by scientists in clean suits and everything was being draped in sheet plastic with large biohazard signs.  I had my people get hold of Anthony Fauci to see what the issue was and was told that there was a fear that I had contracted a case of smallpox. 

I was stunned.  I hadn’t been anywhere near any vertically challenged people since my guest shot on Little People, Big World a few years back where I surprised the family with some real Hollywood glamor after Mrs. Roloff ordered some VickiWear fashions for them all and I delivered the box in person.  How could I possibly have a small disease? 

Worse yet, the clean team had shut me in without any of my streaming devices or DVDs making it impossible to pass the time writing discerning and judicious pieces such as this one.  I did have access to my telephone, so I spent a couple of weeks with my various staff making plans to launch some exciting new projects over the coming months.  I was finally let out of my quarantine this morning when some final tests came back showing that I had contracted a case of something called monkey pox.  How I could have contracted this is simply a mystery.  It’s been some decades since I dated J. Fred Muggs. 

As it was my first day of freedom, I decided I had to celebrate with a trip to the local cineplex to see one of the new releases.  I had been hearing something about this film Everything Everywhere All at Once on some news feeds while scrolling on my phone but no one could really explain what it was about.  I’m a big fan of films that cannot be summed up in simple conceptual terms, so I paid my matinee ticket price, bought a large popcorn, added a box of peanut M&Ms to it, and shook it to mix thoroughly, while settling into my seat.  Two and a half hours later, after viewing the film, I’m not sure I could explain what it was about either, but it was a wild ride.

Everything Everywhere All at Once starts with a slow tracking shot through a crowded and jumbled apartment, settling on a mirror in which are reflected a Chinese American family – mom Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), dad Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and grown daughter (Stephanie Hsu) immediately setting us up for the idea that we, like Alice, are to be passing through the looking glass. 

The family owns a laundromat, living above it, somewhere in the outer suburbs of Los Angeles.  Mom is stressed as her father (James Hong) is coming for a visit, the business isn’t doing well and is being audited by the IRS, it’s Chinese New Year, her marriage is unhappy, and daughter Joy is in a lesbian relationship with Becky (Jenny Slate) and she’s worried what her elderly father might think.  As this domestic drama begins to unfold, there are a few random moments, unnoticed by harried Evelyn, suggesting that the universe around them might be slightly off kilter. 

The family heads off for the audit at the IRS office with an ogre of officiousness, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis having a wonderful time in a truly awful wig) and, while there, Waymond has a number of sudden personality switches.  It appears that there are multiple parallel universes, each one containing an Evelyn and that the technology to jump universes has been perfected elsewhere and this Evelyn is needed to help the denizens of Alpha universe battle an ultimate evil. 

Then things start to get really wild with body jumping, parallel lives, and more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at thrown in the blender which was then set on frappe.  I eventually figured out all of the basic outlines, but I’ll need to see it a couple of times to catch all of the details.

There is much to admire in Everything Everywhere All at Once, created by Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan (collectively known as The Daniels) who share writing and directing credit.  I have been watching Scheinert’s career for some years and found his two previous features, Swiss Army Man and The Death of Dick Long highly original and it’s nice to see him move from niche to more mainstream success. 

This film is a bit like browsing a Blockbuster video store of a few decades ago while on acid.  There are elements of The Matrix, the MCU multiverse, Chinese martial arts films, James Bond, Spielberg, Pixar, Douglas Adams, and Monty Python all whirling together through its multiple simultaneous narratives and it’s a credit to the creators that the audience isn’t thoroughly confused by the non-linear storytelling.  A plethora of visual styles and film techniques keep us grounded as to where we are and what’s going on, whether it’s a quick paced action sequence or a piece of Dadaist comedy like the raccoon in the Japanese hibachi restaurant.  Cinematographer Larkin Seiple and editor Paul Rogers share in the kudos for helping to put all of the crazy pieces together. 

Kwan’s contributions are such that Everything Everywhere All at Once feels like it’s about authentically Asian American characters and not white America’s version of Asian Americans.  Even though we’re on a crazy carnival ride, the film keeps coming back to its core family of four and the quartet of talented actors who bring them (and their various multiverse alternate selves) to life. 

Michelle Yeoh, originally a sort of female Jackie Chan, has never been as good as she is here as the all too human Evelyn, middle aged, beaten down by life, wondering about her choices, but through it all loving her family without falling into any of the usual tiger mom cliches.  Ke Huy Quan, best known for his child performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies and who has been missing from film for decades, returns with a gentle screen presence as the dorky Waymond but whose flips in and out of a more dashing and debonair alpha persona seem completely natural. 

James Hong, now in his early 90s, has been kicking around Hollywood and been in hundreds of films over nearly 70 years and has fun moving from doddering gramps to suave villain, to various other personae.  Stephanie Hsu (replacing the originally cast Awkwafina who departed just before filming for scheduling reasons) is a bit weaker.  She isn’t bad, but she doesn’t have quite the over the top comic chops for some of her scenes. 

Everything Everywhere All at Once does have one serious flaw.  It’s roughly half an hour to forty minutes too long. It would have worked better with a bit of a less is more edit.  We come back to some of the same ideas again and again where it might have been stronger not to have belabored them quite so much.  There are also a couple of sequences, including one involving some oddly placed trophies, which would have best been left on the cutting room floor.

Despite these quibbles, I do recommend you head out to the cineplex and take it in.  Everything Everywhere All at Once is unlike anything else you’re likely to see this year, or next, or next.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction.

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