August 2022

Everything Everywhere At Once | reviewed my Miles David Moore | Scene4 Magazine | August 2022

Taxes, Bagels, and the Alphaverse
Everything Everywhere All at Once

Miles David Moore

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Inception, Interstellar, Arrival, Buckaroo Banzai, I Heart Huckabees, Big Trouble in Little China, Enter the Dragon, Un Chien Andalou, Groundhog Day, 8½, Zazie dans le Metro, Being John Malkovich, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tree of Life, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Slacker, Waking Life, Orlando, Cloud Atlas.

These are the names of movies I wrote down in stream-of-consciousness fashion when casting about for movies that can even remotely be compared with Everything Everywhere All at Once.  (I can add more movies if you can stay awake for it.)  All have at least some tangential similarities, and some come closer than others. but none of them is really like the new film by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as "The Daniels."  The best I can do is to conjure the image of the casts and crews of all those movies arriving at the exact same spot on the exact same day to start filming and immediately getting into a knock-down, drag-out fight, complete with CGI-enhanced martial arts.  Even then, that's not particularly close, but you have the idea.

Of all the examples of metaphysical cinema, Everything Everywhere All at Once may well be the most scintillating, as well as the most bewildering in its sheer profusion of images.  A generous side of kung fu helps the bewilderment go down. 

The story begins with a day in the life of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a woman who operates a failing laundromat filled with unruly customers.  Her apartment above the laundromat is well on the way to becoming a set for Hoarding: Buried Alive.  To say Evelyn is distracted is an understatement.  She is being audited by the IRS, and her kitchen table is buried in tax receipts.  Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has come out as gay, a fact Evelyn tries to hide from Gong Gong (James Hong), her perpetually disapproving father.  Her nerdy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) bakes cookies to try and sweeten the sour disposition of IRS auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis).  Waymond has a surprise Evelyn has yet to discover: the divorce papers he just filed.


Evelyn and Waymond arrive at IRS headquarters. As Deirdre mutters over Evelyn's dubious tax deductions, Evelyn suddenly receives a note directing her to do crazy things, such as putting her shoes on the wrong feet and entering the janitors' closet.  Then Waymond suddenly stares into her eyes, speaking with a purposefulness he has never shown before.

He explains that he is another version of Waymond from the "Alphaverse," the system of parallel universes that governs all existence.  He has "verse -jumped" into this universe's Waymond, using a technique that allows people to jump into their personae in other universes, accessing their thoughts and memories.  He calls on Evelyn to verse-jump into other versions of herself to defeat the evil Jobu Tupaki.  Jobu is an omnipotent nihilist who seeks to destroy the Alphaverse with the giant "Everything Bagel" black hole she created.  Because this universe's Evelyn is the only one with unfulfilled potential, Waymond explains, she is the only one who has room within herself to verse-jump and assume the identities of the other Evelyns.

Got that?  There is much, much more to the Alphaverse, but here's an especially vital piece of information: Jobu Tupaki was formerly known as Alpha Joy, and her persona in Evelyn's universe is…her daughter Joy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is, to use the Sixties cliché, a mind -blowing experience.  To call it kaleidoscopic is accurate but inadequate. The avalanche of images and concepts The Daniels hurl at us, some a fraction of a second in length, would require multiple viewings to fully comprehend, which of course would suit them just fine.  An everything bagel may suit The Daniels' circle-of-life/black-hole philosophy, but the noodles Evelyn cooks at the beginning of Everything Everywhere All at Once are more representative of the movie itself.  Like noodles, the plot of Everything Everywhere All at Once twists and turns crazily on itself, and sometimes you get the feeling the Daniels are just throwing everything against the wall to see if it sticks.


At 139 minutes, Everything Everywhere All at Once becomes something of an endurance test toward its end, with plot twists piling up thick and fast from each of the film's multiverses.  But the dazzling visuals, the insane kung -fu action and above all the excellent cast keep us fascinated.  The frenetic events on screen deflect attention from the fact that the film is, above all, a showcase for the talents of Michelle Yeoh.  One of Asia's greatest stars, Yeoh gives a supple and elegant performance, all the more so for the abundant slapstick Evelyn is forced to endure.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the triumph of her career before this film, and Everything Everywhere All at Once is what might have happened if the makers of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had dropped acid while watching the Marx Brothers.

The multiverses in Everything Everywhere All at Once represent a virtual retrospective of Yeoh's career, as Evelyn becomes a kung fu master, an international movie star, a singer at the Beijing Opera, and a teppanyaki chef who must compete with "Ratacoony," a raccoon who is a takeoff on Disney's Ratatouille.


Among the supporting players, four stand out.  Jamie Lee Curtis builds on her reputation as an expert farceuse, unfazed even in the scenes where she has hot dogs for fingers (an unremarkable occurrence for this movie).  Ke Huy Quan, a former child actor best known for his roles in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is delightful playing the various aspects of Waymond, from doofus to hero.  James Hong, a venerable character actor with more than 450 acting credits, gives a funny, quirky performance as the patriarch who is unreasonable throughout the multiverses.  Stephanie Hsu shows bitchy aplomb as the implacable Jobu Tupaki, and is touching in her scenes as Joy, aching for her mother's approval.

Everywhere Everything All at Once has both a theme and a moral. The theme is that our lives are governed by an infinite number of choices, and those choices constitute our destiny.  The moral, simply put, is, "Love Is the Answer."  That may have been a cliché even when John Lennon sang it, but it is undeniable.  After all the scenes of mayhem tumbling against each other, Everything Everywhere All at Once ends on a beguiling note.  I won't say what it is, but I will quote Emily Dickinson: "To live is so startling it leaves little room for anything else." 



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Miles David Moore | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com
Miles David Moore is a Washington, D.C. reporter for Crain Communications, the author of three books of poetry and Scene4's Film Critic. For more of his reviews and articles, check the Archives.

©2022 Miles David Moore
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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