Everything Everywhere All at Once review: Michelle Yeoh surfs the multiverse
A movie that's title, helpfully, is also pretty much its logline, Everything Everywhere All At Once (in theaters March 25) nearly explodes with its own ideas — a chaotic full-tilt multiverse of hot dog hands and flying Pomeranians rooted (just barely) in a super human performance by Michelle Yeoh.
Everything begins, without a sliver of exposition or even a pause for breath, in a shabby laundromat in suburban Southern California that Yeoh's anxious Evelyn Wang runs with her mild-mannered husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). The day ahead looks hectic, at best: Her father (James Hong) is due to fly in for a New Year celebration, her grown daughter Eleanor (The Path's Stephanie Hsu) wants to officially introduce her girlfriend at the party, and there's a meeting with the IRS somewhere in between that will likely determine the fate of the family's faltering business.
That's Jamie Lee Curtis's cue to enter as the scowling, square-haired Dierdre Beaubeirdra, the living embodiment of petty bureaucracy. But something odd happens at their appointment: Waymond drags Evelyn into a broom closet, clamps a Bluetooth headset on his wife's ear, and sends her hurtling into another dimension. Whatever can be gleaned from his scant, hurried explanation, it's apparently her job to fight her way out of the building or die trying. (There's also an unsigned divorce petition hanging between them, which vaguely complicates things.)
To take on Dierdre and save the world, or at least this particular world, Evelyn will have to access the infinite other dimensions in which she is a chef, a movie star, a martial arts expert, and bring those skills back to the bland cubicles and hallways of the IRS. She's not alone, though; her loved ones also have their own alternate selves — versions that can turn a fanny pack into a deadly weapon, speak English fluently, or manifest as (why not?) a sentient rock. And to win this ill-defined battle they'll need to transcend their various estrangements, if they can find a way back to one another.
Directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man), collectively known as the Daniels, are clearly dedicated students of cinema: Certain scenes recall the metaphysical razzle-dazzle of the Wachowskis, others the lo-fi quirk of Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze; one lovely scene in a Hong Kong alleyway seems like a direct tribute to Wong Kar Wai. Their ambition is palpable and their imagination seemingly unfettered; the script (which the pair also cowrote) crackles and spins and throws off sparks like a Catherine wheel, even as it rarely endeavors to make basic sense.
The risk of all that high-flying pandemonium, of course, is that when anything is possible, nothing really matters. It's a fleeting, vicarious thrill to skim through worlds where everyone has wieners for fingers or raccoons make their own soup; time in the Daniels' Madlibs multiverse isn't a flat circle, it's an everything bagel (literally), and the metaphor is apt. It's also frequently maddening, and the actors, particularly the inexhaustible Yeoh, do much of the work to ground what often feels, with its dream logic and layer-cake Inception feints, like a coded story whose secret key you haven't been invited to share. But there are no small bites of the bagel; it's all at once, or not at all. Grade: B–