Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once

I saw a clip of this movie months ago and was excited. It reminded me of an underrated film I loved, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And it had Michelle Yeoh. Once the story started to unfold and we were hearing about these multi-verses, I rolled my eyes. I’m so burned out on this premise.

This was written/directed by “Daniels” – that would be Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – the guys behind the weird Swiss Army Man (Daniel Radcliffe) and The Death of Dick Long. Their premise takes the idea that, well…much like Sliding Doors (Gwynth Paltrow), any decision you make could change your entire life. Except this isn’t just missing one train that can cause a completely different life, every single decision you make, creates an alternate universe and a different you living a different life. That means you have thousands of versions of yourself doing different things. It’s like Sliding Doors on steroids and acid. Watching the entire thing unfold is rather exhausting. It all just becomes a bit of a mess. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen on screen before (which is both good and bad). 

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. You smile watching an immigrant mom trying to run a laundromat. She’s dealing with a nebbish husband who puts googly eyes on everything, an IRS audit, weird customers, and she has a lot of demands on her daughter who is trying to tell her that her best friend is actually her girlfriend. 

My wife thought that Raymond, the husband, was played by Jackie Chan, and I can understand why. When he goes from being a nerd to using his fanny pack as a martial arts weapon, it feels very Chan-esque. Raymond is played by Ke Huy Quan, who played Data in The Goonies as a kid, and the adorable Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The snotty IRS agent is played in frumpy fashion by Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s fun listening to her lecture Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) while she’s mentally in a broom closet trying to figure out what’s going on with these other universes and the people that want to kill her. And it’s hard not to laugh at a zombie-like IRS agent coming after you, with the receipt for a karaoke machine stapled on her forehead. There are really a lot of fun scenes in this movie, but it was sensory overload. And many of the scenes were repetitive, and a handful were downright stupid. And we don’t need to keep hearing quick expository dialogue explaining the goofy sci-fi logic. The Matrix did this with a much simpler explanation of the red pill, blue pill. 

I love that Evelyn’s father Gong Gong shows up, and he’s played by 93-year-old character actor James Hong; but the real surprise is daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). She’s a joy to watch, as she goes from being the timid daughter afraid to tell her parents she’s a lesbian, to…well…some very interesting characters in other universes. And when you put my movie crush Jenny Slate on screen, you have my attention (did they have to list her in the credits as “Big nose”?). Throw in an everything bagel that plays a prominent part in the movie and…this should be right down my alley. Yet for every scene that had me laughing, there’d be a scene that was idiotic. There came a point where I was wishing Charlie Kaufman would have made this movie, and toned things down just a bit; or perhaps Miranda July. I’m sure one filmmaker, Tarantino, will think this is the best movie of the year.

Evelyn discovers that in other universes, she is an opera singer, a teppanyaki chef (with a co-worker who has a raccoon on his head); she’s a huge action star in Hong Kong, who meets Raymond in a way that really moved me. Turns out the version we’re watching is Evelyn “living the worst you” of all the verses. And now she’s being asked to take some of the knowledge from where she’s a martial arts expert, into this new version, to fight off people who are trying to destroy the planet.

And just as I got tired of the raccoon/Ratatouille joke, the universe where everyone has hot dogs for fingers bugged me. That might have worked in a comedy sketch, but doesn’t quite work here (although you can’t help but laugh when a romantic scene starts with one woman playing the piano with her feet). The Daniels should realize jokes probably work better if you don’t keep going back to them and running them into the ground. But what do I know? They’re making money hanging out with Jenny Slate and Yeoh. I’m making significantly less sitting at a computer writing about it, while my wife is sitting at the table going through receipts for our taxes. I just think some of these scenes with the hot dog fingers, or the raccoon helping a chef out, could have been DVD extras, or scenes you see while the closing credits roll. 

Luckily for us, when they jump to various ‘verses, they stick with the same characters we’ve already been introduced to (although I’m guessing many will still be confused by it all).

Of all the scenes in this movie, there’s one that I’m still not sure if it was funny or just idiotic. It involves security guards in a fight that, to keep their power going, have to constantly shove things up their butts. Rectum, damn near killed ‘em (as the old joke goes).

There is enough going on here that you’ll never be bored, and you’ll laugh a lot. Younger people might not get some of the references (the 2001: A Space Odyssey joke), and some jokes older people won’t get. This is the type of spaztic experience that disappointed me in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, but when he took things down a notch, made one of the best movies ever – 12 Monkeys. I’ll be waiting for the Daniels’ 12 Monkeys.

This gets 2 ½ stars out of 5. A star for each hour of this exhausting experience. 

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