Everything, Everywhere, All At Once(4/4/2022)

They’ve often taken a back seat to robots, space ships, aliens, and time travel but as a science fiction concept parallel dimensions are clearly having a moment.  Unlike some of those other concept they don’t really have a clear grad daddy like an H.G. Welles or an Isaac Asimov, these ideas about tripping through an infinite number of alternate universes where things are just slightly (or not so slightly) different from our own has been all over the place in movies, TV, shows, and whatnot.  Some googling says that the concept as we know it started in a short story from the 1930s called “Sideways in Time” by Murray Leinster but some more famous progenitors include the Star Trek Mirror Universe but what really seemed to make them go mainstream were comic books, particularly DC Comics’ Earth-Two shenanigans which also carry over to Marvel’s multi-verse, which have now become a major part of the MCU films, particularly the “Loki” TV show and their recent box office titan Spider-Man: No Way Home, but what actually seemed more informative to the recent trend of parallel universes might actually be the adult animated TV series “Rick and Morty,” which often brings these ideas to mind bending ends.  But I don’t know that we’ve ever quite had the definitive feature length film meditation on this concept, until now, as the idea is take to it’s logical endpoint by the new film Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.

The film focuses in on a woman named Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) who in her younger years had emigrated from China to the United States with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) and the two now jointly run a not overly successful laundromat and are being audited by the IRS over tax irregularities.  She also has a rather strained relationship with her adult daughter Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu), who has entered into a relationship with another woman named Becky (Tallie Medel), which makes Evelyn uncomfortable.  Eventually the whole family, including Evelyn’s wheelchair bound father Gong Gong Wang, but excluding Joy, make their way to the IRS building to meet with an auditor named Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) but strange things start happening once they arrive.  In the elevator Waymond suddenly starts acting like a different person and give Evelyn strange instructions about thinking of herself in a broom closet and pressing a button on a Bluetooth headset and when she does this a wild series of events begin which involve traveling back and forth across different realities which will change the lives of all involved forever.

The film is directed by a duo named Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert who collectively refer to themselves as “Daniels.”  The two of them did a lot of music videos before moving on to features and they very much descend from the Spike Jonze and Michel Godry school of outlandish visuals and comedy.  I wasn’t a huge fan of their first feature film Swiss Army Man, which involved Paul Dano getting caught in the wilderness and using a corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe to get out of it, but there was definitely a vision there and I was also certainly amused by some of their music video work like their video for the DJ Snake and Lil John song “Turn Down For What,” where their kind of crazy was really distilled to its essence.  Still I was skeptical that they could really get what they do to work as a feature but I think they managed it with this new movie, partly just because they found a concept which really allowed them to really start at a pretty fast tempo and mostly just speed things up and up, unlike Swiss Army Man which often slowed down and maybe gave its audience too much time to process how strange the concept was.

At the center of the madness is Michelle Yeoh, an actress who is both a legend with nothing left to prove while also being a criminally under-rated actress, especially in the United States.  Historically Yeoh has played spies, martial artists, and glamorous millionaires but here she plays a seemingly ordinary immigrant family woman with fairly mundane problems until she learns that in other universes she’s in fact a tremendously important person with implications that ripple out throughout the multiverse, as such she (and most of the cast) kind of need to play multiple roles as they encounter different versions of themselves.  I also really liked Stephanie Hsu as her daughter, who is frustrated in rather conventional millennial reasons in this world but who has some rather outlandish personality differences (and similarities) in different universes.  Then there’s Ke Huy Quan, who was a child star best known for playing Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom back in the 80s but never really transitioned easily into adult roles.  Truth be told I can kind of see why, the guy kind of got funny looking with age, but that sort of works here as he’s supposed to be playing a kind of dorky looking guy whose looks odd when he’s taken over by other versions of himself and suddenly becomes badass.

I want to be careful about giving away too much more than I already have about this movie because it is one you’re probably going to want to go into fairly blind but needless to say it gets really hyper as it goes.  The kind of physical comedy that “Daniels” are known for is on full display at times in the movie as the process of skipping between universes involves doing strange bits of physical comedy and other generally absurd and sometimes scatological things happen all over the place in the movie, which will likely weird out some audiences.  That physical comedy bent also mixes with straight-up fight sequences in which Yeoh’s martial arts background comes into play, making this an action film in addition to being a science fiction movie and a comedy.  The fast paced nature of the film’s multiverse shenanigans will likely be the other big barrier to entry for some audiences but to those who can keep up with it it’s invigorating and it just gets crazier and more over the top as the film goes.  But beneath all the wild stuff the film is grounded by its characters, who do react like rational humans to all this stuff in a way that makes it kind of relatable and there is a sentimental core to it all about this family and its dynamics.  To me this is a huge leap forward for “Daniels” after Swiss Army Men, almost to the point where they don’t have a lot of room to improve their hyperactive style from here, they may well have taken it to an almost perfect extreme and I’m not sure where they can go from here.

****1/2 out of Five

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