Everything Everywhere All at Once – Film Review
by David Turpin
Directors – Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Writers – Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Stars – Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan
Michelle Yeoh gets a richly deserved showcase in Everything Everywhere All at Once, the second feature from directing duo Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert). Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, an ageing Chinese immigrant running a failing launderette in the US. Relations with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) are strained, and matters with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) are worse. Her father (living legend James Hong) surveys her life with grim disapproval, and Evelyn herself wonders what might have been. If this begins to sound like one of those American independent movies in which the heroine’s frustrated potential is symbolised by a small bird that flies in the window, you’ll be relieved to learn it’s… not that.
It’s the other kind of American Independent film: the one in which tremendous surface invention is deployed to camouflage a heart of pure, down-home corn. You see, while neck-deep in the tortuous process of doing her tax return, Evelyn is sucked into a frantic interdimensional adventure, hopping from one reality to the next, experiencing the lives she might have lived had her choices been different. This she does in order to save existence itself from the mysterious figure Jobu Tupaki, an annihilating force intent on… something.
Much of the fanfare for Everything Everywhere All at Once orbits around the idea that this is the ‘little film that could’, taking on the screen-gobbling might of Marvel Comics and emerging victorious. Well, quite. It says something about the state of independent cinema that a $25-million action fantasy now counts as a ‘little film’, though this correspondent isn’t sure it’s a sign of rude health. Also, rather inconveniently, Everything Everywhere All at Once is weirdly similar to Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the latest piece of Marvel pablum against which it is being offered as counter-programming. On a superficial level, both films deal with the idea of multiple simultaneous universes, and the possibility of travelling between them. More troublingly, Everything Everywhere All at Once boils down to the kind of sentiment and ideological simplicity that one might very well expect to find in a Marvel movie.
One might be consistently engaged by the film’s flights of comic imagination while finding the ‘family first’ bromides at its heart rather trite. Also, one might begin to wonder why these infinite universes all seem to be determined by the cultural and aesthetic preferences of the kind of thirtysomething men who work in web design and shop at Urban Outfitters. But if one has ever wondered whether it’s possible to not know where a film will go from moment-to-moment, but still know with absolute certainty that it’s going to end up with some platitudinous yelling about the importance of ‘being kind’, wonder no more. We are living in the universe where such a thing is, grimly, not only possible but inevitable.
Nevertheless, it is a full-scale Michelle Yeoh vehicle and a rare English-language production that takes full advantage of her capacity for humour, pathos, glamour and eye-popping physical action. Let us be glad, at least, that our antic-but-often-mundane reality – and this antic-but-often-mundane film – has offered us that.