by Miguel E. Rodriguez
Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 96% Certified Fresh
PLOT: A middle-aged Asian woman tries to do her family’s taxes with mind-bending results.
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so daring and original that any attempt to accurately describe it feels futile. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was one of them. Being John Malkovich was another. And now comes Everything Everywhere All at Once, a sci-fi action brainteaser that feels as if it were written by Terry Gilliam and Quentin Tarantino and directed by Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer…two movies that also meet that “indescribable” criterion). It feels like an episode of Black Mirror crossed with Jackie Chan and a dash of David Lynch and Terrence Malick. If you can’t find anything to like in this movie, check your pulse.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) opens the film trying to do her family’s taxes. She and her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan – “Short Round” from Temple of Doom!!), carry stacks and stacks of receipts to their local IRS branch and try to explain to their case worker (a dowdy Jamie Lee Curtis) how a karaoke machine can be deducted as a business expense. However, before that can happen, after a series of very strange events involving Waymond and a pair of Bluetooth headsets, Evelyn finds herself immersed in a trans-dimensional battle between the forces of good, led by an alternate-universe version of Waymond – the “Alpha Waymond,” if you will – and someone called Jobu Tupaki, a being or person who is hunting for Evelyn in every conceivable parallel universe. All Evelyn has to do is use these weird headsets to access the infinite multiverse and harness the skills learned by the infinite Evelyns before Jobu Tupaki can track her down and kill her.
To access the multiverse in such a way, one must commit random acts of…randomness, which leads to bizarre scenes of individuals doing some very weird things to access special skills. What kind of weird things, you ask? Things involving…sticks of lip balm, putting your shoes on the wrong feet, saying “I love you” to a stranger, or wiping someone else’s nose for them and…well, use your imagination.
That’s seriously just scratching the surface. I haven’t even mentioned Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter, Joy; their laundromat; Evelyn’s elderly grandfather, Gong Gong (veteran character actor James Hong – 450 film and TV credits and counting); or the divorce papers Waymond has on his person.
This movie is a trippy, joyous, tightrope-walking masterpiece. There are moments where you can sense it tap-dancing on the line of self-parody, then jumping over it and daring the audience to go along with it. If there are some people that say they were unable to follow where this movie leads, I can’t really say I’d blame them. Not many movies would ask you to take it seriously, then include a scene involving two rocks having a conversation via, I guess, ESP. Or where the two lead characters turn into piñatas. Or where Jamie Lee Curtis staples a piece of paper to her own head. Or where the fate of the world might hinge on who gets their hands (in a manner of speaking) on a trophy shaped like…a very specific kind of toy.
HOT DOG FINGERS, people. HOT. DOG. FINGERS.
I’m frankly amazed this movie didn’t collapse on itself. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong, and so much it wants to say, while trying to be simultaneously massively entertaining and heartbreakingly poignant.
From a technical standpoint, I think it’s the frontrunner for the Best Film Editing Oscar for 2022. This movie jumps from one parallel universe to the next and the next and back again so frequently that I got whiplash, BUT it was never confusing or mystifying. It was always crystal clear what I was watching and why I needed to see it. I could list any number of films or TV shows that have attempted this kind of thing on a much more modest scale and failed. This is like the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of film editing. It has been done so well and on such a grand scale that it seems unlikely anyone will try to tell this kind of story in the same way again.
Some may quibble at the mildly melodramatic resolution of the conflict among Evelyn, the “Alpha” universe, and Jobu Tupaki. I can understand that viewpoint, but honestly, I just rolled with it when it came around. And so did the theater audience I was with the night I saw it. We all laughed uproariously on cue, sometimes for something funny, sometimes in sheer disbelief at what we had just seen. But when the wrap-up started to come together, we all hushed and waited to see what would happen. Even when it involved a parallel universe with something called Raccacoonie. (It’s a long story…)
I hope I’ve conveyed how crazy good this movie is while preserving some of its best surprises. I haven’t felt this urgent about getting the word out about a great movie since I saw Roma. To call this an entertaining night at the movies does a serious injustice to the words “entertaining” and “movies.” It’s more than entertaining and, not to get too hyperbolic, this is more than a mere movie. It’s a masterwork, a collision of grand ambition and even grander moviemaking. I plan on seeing it at least once more in theaters, if only just to see what I may have missed the first time around. (And maybe also to tune more carefully into audience reactions at key moments, like the performance trophies, or those two rocks. Who knew two rocks could be funny? Like REALLY funny?)