Everything Everywhere All At Once ****
Updated: Jun 26, 2022
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong
Daniels are a directing pair on the rise, with their signature absurdist style making their voice both striking and distinctive. Their feature debut Swiss Army Man was a critical hit, but now they have really cemented their status as auteurs with this, their follow-up. A phantasmagorical time-shifting multiverse explosion of kung-fu sci-fi, this remarkably unique film has catapulted both Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Crazy Rich Asians) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, True Lies) back into the spotlight too and my God, we’ve missed them!
Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) and her husband, Waymond (Quan – Indiana Jones, The Goonies), are Chinese immigrants living in the US. The family run a laundromat with their daughter, Joy (Hsu – The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel), and her grandfather Gong Gong (Hong – Big Trouble In Little China, Kung Fu Panda), but they are struggling to pay their taxes. Meeting with an IRS agent (Curtis), Evelyn is taken aback when her husband is temporarily possessed by another version of Waymond from another universe, who tells her that she can hop countless plains of reality, witnessing different outcomes from her many life decisions. Scared and wary, Evelyn isn’t interested in this hallucinatory craziness until she learns that there is a vengeful figure who has been murdering other versions of her in numerous other realities.
The simplest way to describe this film is absolutely bonkers. The contrast between the drab normalcy of the Wangs’ laundromat and the technicolour insanity of the film’s final act is extreme, but it’s all the more refreshing for its psychedelia. The family are an endearing set of characters, especially as we meet numerous versions of them from all the different realities. The film revolves around Evelyn’s evolving relationship with her daughter, who is gay and wanting to come out to her grandfather. Take away all the universes, explosions and martial arts and this is the story of a daughter seeking approval from her mother. But it’s all this window-dressing that makes this film so extraordinary.
From the moment that we first start hopping “verses”, it’s clear that Daniels are determined to give us an out and out assault on all the senses. We see versions of Evelyn’s life where she became a movie star, a professional singer, a chef working in a restaurant run by a raccoon; there’s even universes where there is no life and she becomes a rock, or she’s animated, or a woman with hot dogs for fingers, or a piñata hanging from a tree. The jumps between worlds are frantic and wild, with the kind of breathless editing that sets the pulse-racing. Technically, this is a work of absolute genius, with SFX, montage and art direction creating a 4D multiverse that feels like the weird three-way love-child of Doctor Strange, Synecdoche New York and The Lego Movie.
Conceptually, this is much akin to Inception or The Matrix, in which much care is taken to the gradual revelation of the rules of a constructed world, before setting off a bomb inside it and making the characters deal with the consequences. Except Daniels’ over-caffeinated style means that if you don’t keep up, you don’t keep up, leaving some scenes feeling bewilderingly frenetic and us mere mortals chaotically trying to follow the plot. And once that fuse is lit, chaos reigns supreme, with the screen ablaze with every trick in a director’s arsenal, like an immersive demo of sensory overload. But with a chunky run-time, there are extended periods where you’re left scratching your head and feeling like you’re watching Tenet, if it were made by Fisherprice.
There’s no doubt that this film marks the arrival of two remarkable directors. This will be a cult film that lives on for decades, with its trip-happy absurdity the stuff of VR fantasy. It looks, smells and feels remarkable, with Yeoh giving her strongest performance in a decade, but I dare anyone to try and plot the narrative of that final hour, because even casually following it is a Hurculean task. But then, sometimes you need to just go with it! And if you sit back and let Daniels do the work, you’ll come out the other side feeling refreshingly cathartic, albeit having been dragged through a cherry blossom tree by a dragon, backwards and upside-down.
UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by A24