It is interesting that this film has been scheduled to come out just a week after Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as it has , at its core, a very similar focus. Either the people behind it thought they could ride on the fascination with alternative universes generated by Marvel’s latest megamovie, or they rather boldly thought they could do better and show how the subject really should be handled. I have to say though, if it is the latter then they are good for it because Everything Everywhere All at Once eclipses big budget Benedict in every single respect; it outdoes it with both the multiverses and with the madness.
There is some difference of opinion on this though. Empire Magazine awarded this movie their maximum five stars saying it was simply ‘everything cinema was invented for’ but The Guardian gave it just two, labelling it ‘an oddly mediocre misfire’. I understand this as you are either going to connect with this film, as Empire’s Ben Travis evidently did, or, like Mr. Peter Bradshaw, you are not. There is no denying that this is a spectacular marriage of story and design though, with wildly imaginative flourishs and masterful handling of narrative. Everything Everywhere All at Once goes in some utterly bonkers directions, certainly taking its audiences to places they’ll have never been before, yet it never loses its way. It is unarguably audacious but somehow in an effortless way, being fuelled not by any desire to push boundaries but by exceptionally creative and tight storytelling. I, in case you had not picked up on this, am with Empire on this one. This movie is a genuine wonder.
The tone and humour of the film is remarkably well balanced too. There have been any number of comparably surreal and thinky movies before; Under the Silver Lake, The Box, Mother!, The Fountain, Southland Tales, and while there are highs and lows among this list, Everything Everywhere All at Once beats them all with its consistent sense of fun. This is partly down to its resistance to pose frustrating questions and to indulgently glory in its own confusing ambiguity but also because of the constant jokes, both visual and scripted. Several of these gags are quite bawdy too, these and the violence earn its 15 certificate, but it’s never cheap or salacious.
Even with all of this though it also manages to elicit a genuine emotional response, something that Doctor Strange never managed amongst the mayhem. The story revolves around a Chinese/American woman and her touching relationships with her family stay central to everything. This part helps bring you in when everything else runs the risk of pushing you away and thus again, the perfect balance is maintained.
This film has a nice relationship with other movies too. Some of the nods are explicit, as with references to the Wachowskis, Pixar, Kubrick and Kar-Wai Wong (there is a sequence of alternative posters that celebrate this approach) but elsewhere it just displays an awareness of international genre cinema and it is all very endearing.
The artists behind this are Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert who last gave us the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie, Swiss Army Man. That film had a charming simplicity that this does not but this is a definite step up for the duo that raises expectations high for any future projects. I’m not sure where they’ll go from here, possibly into a Marvel film of their own (two of the producers of the film are Anthony and Joe Russo who directed Endgame before steering away from that multiverse to this one) but either way, this announces them as dauntingly brilliant Hollywood talents.
The Ripley Factor:
This said, talking of Hollywood may be limiting since, as indicated, the film maker’s own focus is evidently wider. Having a Chinese immigrant family at the heart of this movie makes this an international story and much of the dialogue is actually in Mandarin and Cantonese.
The cast sees a star making turn by Stephanie Hsu, a reliable performance from James Hong and the mainstream return of one time young Indy sidekick Ke Huy Quan (surely a Goonies legacy sequel is now inevitable) but the film totally belongs to Michelle Yeoh. Jenny Slate and Jamie Lee Curtis are in there too, the latter as you have never seen her before, of course.
Yeoh’s Evelyn is the consummate everywoman, (everywhere all at once) showing the great potential and infinite possibilities of regular mums, daughters and wives. As such there is a strong feminist message in here as well. In fact I think that is one of the two morals of the story; don’t put too much stuff on your bagel, and ordinary women can do pretty much anything.
See it any way, anywhere but at once.