There’s a scene where Evelyn’s daughter Joy Wang enters a room and her father asks, ‘What are you doing here?’ and she replies, ‘I have no fucking idea,’ which reflected my thoughts of, ‘What is this film all about?’ My initial reaction was the same as Joy’s. To answer the question Evelyn explains Joy’s mind has been taken over by Jobu Tobacky a er… multiverse-transcending ultra-villain. Joy’s face is a picture of disbelief – and watching Everything Everywhere All At Once it’s best to suspend your disbelief as it’s confusing, bizarre, thought provoking, violent and at times very funny.
To continue in that scene Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) attempts to explain what is going on to the growing amusement of her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and daughter (Stephanie Hsu). She concludes, ‘It sounds a little bit ridiculous but it’s true.’ And for the sake of the plot, it’s best to accept it. Evelyn is locked into a battle with arch baddie Jobu and his odd-ball band of fighters for control of inter connected universes, with a series of extraordinary but brilliantly filmed sequences as she experiences the many versions of herself in multi-universes. She’s an opera singer, a fighter a movie star and a pizza seller and so forth as she fights a succession of characters in a search for peace and reconciliation with her own life in America’s Chinese community – and to defeat Jobu of course. But essentially she’s trying to work out what her life is all about – it’s all inside her head – well that’s one interpretation.
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert the 2022 movie includes fights that are comic parodies of Kung Fu movies. They are brilliantly choreographed and witty – often set in everyday places like offices and kitchens. Evelyn escapes from certain death at the hands of these fighters by transporting herself into a different Evelyn in a different universe at moments of peril. From appearing dead after one fight to leaving a cinema as a celebrated movie star at a celebrity screening and stepping into a road and arriving in a kitchen as a chef, where a colleague with a raccoon on his head tries to kill her. The title doesn’t disappoint: Everything Everywhere All at Once is just that – almost too much visual stimulation all at once.
So rich in imagery and so startling in the sudden shifts in mood there is so much to take in and to understand. And it all starts in the mundane worlds of a launderette and a tax office where she is pursued throughout the film by the tax officer played menacingly by Jamie Lee Curtis.
It’s been described as a science fiction comedy, an absurdist comedy-drama and a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure. In each of her many lives in the bizarre and diverse universes Evelyn repeatedly meets many versions of those in her real life. Her daughter primarily, her difficult aged father (James Hong) and her husband in their troubled marriage. It is these relationships that are visually and symbolically explored with slapstick violence and incredible special effects. Yes, there’s some existentialist ideas with shots of a desert landscape where you expect Brian Cox to appear, and there’s the concept of the everything bagel where the narrative drives to its conclusion with the moral that violence is wrong, and we should all be nice to each other.
Versatile and fabulous Michelle Yeoh as the launderette owner Evelyn Quan Wang is the bloodied face and embodiment of the story – in fact her face is indelibly engraved into the viewer’s mind since the camera frequently focuses on her image.
In what are often surreal and absurdist scenes Evelyn is tormented by her problematic relationships with father, daughter, spouse and extended family, friends, colleagues and customers. After a particularly hectic sequence Joy confronts her mother and says, ‘Mum just stop, just stop trying to figure your shit out.’ As Joy is about to leave, Evelyn fires back with her own home truths in what is a classic cinematic mother daughter heart to heart – a relationship that is at the heart of the movie.
Rapscallion Magazine is an online publication edited by Harry Mottram
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