Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., Biff Wiff, Sunita Mani, Aaron Lazar, Audrey Wasilewski, Daniel Scheinert
Written by: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Directed by: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, sexual material and language
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 139
Date: 04/29/2022
IMDB

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Existing Arrest

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I missed seeing Daniels' Everything Everywhere All at Once in early press screenings, and only managed to catch up to it a few weeks later, after some of the hype had declared it the best movie of 2022 so far. It was the first movie ticket I purchased for myself since before the pandemic, and it was a wonderful time. I can't help thinking how I might have reacted otherwise, though. I enjoyed Daniels' previous film Swiss Army Man, but a certain queasy quality in it kept me from wanting to revisit it. So would my earlier, auteurist movie critic self be OK with giving a four-star rating to an entertainment such as this, full of martial arts and comical winks?

I've been thinking about the movie since I saw it, about how much is packed into it, and how amazingly smoothly it flows. As difficult as it is to describe, it's so easy to watch. But I think what truly impressed me is how awe-inspiringly ambitious it is, to suggest millions of universes, and to actually convey that sense onscreen. Every scene of the movie is rife with infinite possibility, and even if a given scene may play in a way that makes familiar, narrative, structural sense, there's still a hint, that anything, anything at all, could be coming next.

This is not an easy thing for movies to do, to suggest some enormous thing or event that affects everyone. Even as good as Spider-Man: No Way Home is, it doesn't really capture the hugeness of the multiverse as well as this movie does. Only three Spider-Men? Pshaw. This movie has millions of Michelle Yeohs. A rapid-fire montage of her face over changing backgrounds, different lifetimes, speeds up to a pace faster than the eye can catch, and when it ends, we feel that, yes, this goes on forever.

As it begins, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) lives a numbing life, running a laundromat and fretting over taxes. She cares for her grumpy, ever-hungry aged father, Gong Gong (James Hong), can't get along with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) — who identifies as lesbian and has a girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel) — and finds her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, the now-fifty-year-old child star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies), and his boundless optimism, ridiculous. Evelyn, Waymond and Gong Gong drag themselves and their armloads of receipts to an appointment with the shrill, unpleasant IRS agent Deirdre Beaubeirdra (a neatly disguised Jamie Lee Curtis). But, just before, in the elevator, everything changes.

Waymond suddenly snaps his head and becomes a different person. He gives Evelyn a list of instructions to follow, which include putting her shoes on the wrong feet. Before long, she's in a janitor's closet with another version of Waymond. He explains that there's a powerful being called "Jobu Tupaki" searching for her, that the multiverse is in danger, and that only Evelyn can stop it. Before long, Deirdre is trying to kill Evelyn, and there's an amazing martial arts fight and chase in the IRS office that lasts for a good long chunk of the movie. And that's just the beginning.

Daniels — the professional moniker for directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — have a masterly handle on their tale. Every tiny thing, from the comic googly eyes that Waymond likes to stick on random objects to a sinister, dark "O" shape, has been placed in the movie for a specific purpose, and everything circles back with satisfying clarity. Certain universes that feel like one-note jokes — such as a universe in which the story of "Raccoonie" (not Ratatouille) is real, or one in which everything is normal except that people have hot dogs for fingers — eventually deepen. That also goes for the characters, including (and especially) Curtis's Dierdre.

But what is Everything Everywhere All at Once actually about? As the characters begin to hop between universes, picking up on various skills like martial arts from certain ones, they realize that have the capacity to experience everything that there ever was to experience. And they find that it all adds up to nothing. There's no answer for anything. This concept is at once freeing and alarming, but fortunately the movie draws another conclusion: even if that's true, why not stop and fully appreciate the best moments, and those moments that are all about kindness and love?

The movie takes the long way around to get to this point, because the journey makes it more earned. It makes us jump in and do the work, rather than simply laying it out. The recent The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent makes a point to single out 2018's Paddington 2 — which went a different route to reach the same conclusions about kindness and love — as a life-changer, especially given that it came out at a darkly political time when it was needed most. Perhaps Everything Everywhere All at Once can be a post-pandemic life-changer that can help pull us back together again. Is it a masterpiece? Perhaps in another lifetime we can find out for sure.

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