“Everything All at Once” is a multiverse martial arts movie about midlife regret and filing taxes. Fanny packs, everything bagels, and googly eyes play crucial supporting roles. Portals to parallel lives are opened with butt plugs.
Friday’s movie opens in theaters. It is directed by Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert and was made by the filmmaking duo “the Daniels”, also known as the “the Daniels”. Their first film, “Swiss Army Man,” featured Daniel Radcliffe as a flatulent corpse.
However, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is more ambitious. It is possible that there has never been a greater distance between a movie’s ordinary storyline and the extreme form it takes. In this case, the film’s main character is a Chinese immigrant laundry owner who struggles to file her taxes. Rarely have trips to the IRS produced such metaphysical, cosmic digressions than “Everything Everywhere at Once”, an anarchic, yet touching movie with a spin cycle that is set to supercollider.
Joy (Stephanie Hsu), the daughter of Evelyn Wang and Michelle Yeoh, says that “the universe is so much larger than you realize” at one point in this film.
Although “Everything Everywhere All at Once” can be overwhelming, the movie is filled with a liberating sense that there are endless possibilities. This feeling is both evident in its playful, anything-goes approach and its tender portrayal of existential despair. This is a remarkable feat for a film that relies on well-formatted tax receipts.
Evelyn balances piles of paperwork in her apartment with Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), ahead of the impending arrival of her father James Hong (now 93, but no less animated), while also attending to customers at the laundromat downstairs. Joy introduces Joy to her girlfriend at the same time. Evelyn does not want Joy to hear this. Evelyn follows Joy into the parking lot, claiming that it is meant to be a more friendly exchange. Joy, however, blurts out that she needs to eat less.
We immediately realize that Evelyn is the source of our dissatisfaction. There are divorce papers. Yeoh is a remarkable actor who plays Evelyn. She is frustrated and bitter that her life has become a cycle of taxes and laundry. Something is horribly wrong. Waymond, Evelyn and Waymond go to see Jamie Lee Curtis, the IRS auditor. Their humdrum reality begins to unravel in ways that will allow them to examine the decisions Evelyn made to get to this moment.
While Evelyn waits to hear how her business might be lost, Evelyn becomes aware of a metaverse. Waymond, an older, more powerful version, comes from another dimension. He warns Evelyn of a new evil, which is tearing through all levels of existence. Evelyn’s decisions have been responsible for creating them all. Spider-Man fused several superhero realms from roughly the same universe, but Evelyn is an infinite matrix of possibilities.
It is possible that I am making “Everything Everywhere All at Once” sound more clear than it really is. Although these things are explained, the pace is always fast. While most science-fiction films go into detail about the rules of these splintered universes, Daniels’ film just uses what is available to do its verse-jumping. This absurdist Charlie Kaufman-esque sequence of worlds connect Evelyn to other versions of her life, such as if Waymond hadn’t married her. One shows Evelyn as a movie star, essentially Yeoh herself, with footage from the “Crazy Rich Asians” premieres. Waymond and Evelyn meet in another style, silkily styled after Wong Kar Wai’s “In The Mood for Love”.
Many alternate realities, however, are hilarious. One is where people are able to evolve using hot dogs as fingers and then use their feet to play Chopin. Another is a wild riff of “Ratatouille” but Evelyn mispronounced it. It’s actually with a racoon as a tiny chef.
Although “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, is as expansive as it sounds, it’s still a very claustrophobic movie. Evelyn’s current reality is where the multiverses most often collide. It doesn’t matter what timeline it is flittering around in, it’s actually set within Evelyn’s psychology and Joy. It’s actually a proxy for the daughter who’s causing all the problems in the different universes. As absurd as it may seem, the movie is remarkably focused on addressing the deep-seated hurts and feelings of insignificance that fuel all the chaos. The performances are somehow grounded. The cast is strong, but Quan’s performance makes it a joy to hear him again. His deepest feeling is perhaps his abiding sweetness.
Filmmaking that is frantically edited may not be perfect, but it isn’t always meant to be. There are some echoes of “Kung Fu Hustle”, and the chaos irreverence shares some DNA and the same plate-spinning movies by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a story about a woman trying to make sense out of her chaotic life. “Everything Everywhere” is a counter to algorithmic thinking. It is a bizarre and unsavory tribute to the human struggle and joy.
Motion Picture Association of America has rated “Everything Everywhere at Once” as a theatrical release A24 for violence, sexual material, and language. Running time: 139 min. Four and a quarter stars.