Everything Everywhere All At Once

Year: 2022
Studio: A24
Director: Daniel Kwan/Daniel Scheinert
Writer: Daniel Kwan/Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeah, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong, Jenny Slate

As I write this review, this movie is a steamroller. It's done very well in theatres, had a very long life on streaming services and VOD and is a continuing critical darling, awards are piling so high most people think there's a good chance of it taking the Best Picture Oscar in just a few weeks.

Like I did, you might think that because it's from arthouse studio A24 it's an arthouse movie, where the mechanics behind the premise don't really matter as much as the characterisations and the way-out premise itself.

Don't be fooled. It's a very straight commercial fantasy drama where the hero Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) can move between universes where other versions of herself who've led vey different lives can gift their skills to her in order to fulfil her mission in this one.

And here's the first problem with that. Her husband, the nerdy but devoted Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, and is the character's first name supposed to be a racial slur posing as a joke? I'm asking honestly, I don't know if 'Waymond' is a legitimate Asian name) seems to be possessed or taken over by some other iteration of himself from another universe all of a sudden.

He grabs her hand, starts dragging her through the office building where armed security guards are hunting them down and sputters the rules and reason for her being able to travel between universes in such a scattershot fashion (between and amid fight scenes), I couldn't follow it.

And because I hadn't really absorbed the in-universe rules of the movie, I didn't know what was going on when any of the characters travelled between universes, learnt new skills, or imparted skills in them. I also have to admit I didn't really know what the inciting incident or the character's aims were, so I spent most of the movie just trying to enjoy the visuals.

The second problem is that the Daniels (co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, critical darlings scooping up awards left and right just like their movie) suffer from a bad case of Lord of the Rings syndrome.

They fall too in love with their characters and the subplots they find themselves caught up in, so just when you think it ends, along comes another smaller climax wrapping up another aspect of the proceedings... then another, then another.

All of which meant that by the time it finished after almost two and a half hours, I was kind of glad.

Evelyn and Waymond own a laundromat, and they're also being audited by the IRS. When we meet her she's also trying to plan a dinner party for her elderly father and come to terms with the fact that her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is gay and has a girlfriend.

While accompanying Waymond to the IRS office with a trolley full of documents and being subjected to the brutish attitude by standoffish assessor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn zones out into an alternate present where Waymond tells her everyone's in danger, directs her to a nearby janitor's closet and tells her to wait.

And from there, it lost me. His self from the other universe is a rebel leader fighting some Brave New World-style despot, who – in that other universe – is embodied by the couple's daughter. To fight her, Evelyn needs to dip in and out of other universes where she takes skills from other selves like martial arts or (in the weirdest turn) being like the rat on the chef's head in Ratatouille.

Her daughter, with some strange mythological name, has a giant spinning bagel behind a locked door in some glowing temple into which oblivion for the entire multiverse awaits, and Evelyn must stop the girl from throwing everything and everyone into it.

...I think.

There are repeated motifs like the stick-on googly eyes, the divorce papers Waymond has been too nervous to present her with, the history of their young selves fleeing to the US to elope without their parents' blessings, a pretty major plot strand where she's a movie star in another universe and a dozen others, but I had enough trouble trying to disentangle the bare bones plot, let alone all the self-references.

The praise has been almost universal, and unless I'm a complete idiot and it all made sense to everyone else, there are only a few things I can attribute that to. First, there's so much colour, movement and action – and plenty of humour – I think a lot of people are just taken in by a shiny but fairly empty bauble.

The other is that the Hollywood firmament is so poised to heap outsized adulation onto anything that addresses its white male inclusion guilt, the industry had decided before it even came out that it was going to be a smash.

But however right I am on both those counts, the audience has proven me wrong about it being a critic's movie. It's already quadrupled a $25m budget, so moviegoers are loving it too.

And finally, what's with all the multiverse stories? After the Marvel Universe made it such a thing it's becoming as big a trend as comic book movies themselves.

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