An omnipotent being is threatening the multiverse. Who ya gonna call? Spiderman? Dr. Strange? How about a middle-aged Asian-American woman failing as a wife and mother? Her name is Evelyn, and she’s the unlikely hero of Everything Everywhere All at Once, the mind-bending action-comedy written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinerts, collectively known as the Daniels. Heavily influenced by The Matrix, Kill Bill and the films of Wong Kar-Wai, and with enough exposition to put Christopher Nolan to shame, the Daniels have created a subversive take on the chosen-one narrative that takes place across an infinite expanse of parallel universes.
In a hilarious bit of bad timing, while Evelyn and her husband Waymond are at an IRS office trying to negotiate their way out of legal jeopardy, Waymond is abruptly taken over by Alpha-Waymond. Alpha-Waymond is from the Alphaverse, so named because it’s the first ‘verse to create ‘verse-jumping technology, which allow its inhabitants to move between parallel realities by temporarily taking over the bodies of their alternate universe counterparts. Alpha-Waymond explains to Evelyn how wise choices act like the cosmic equivalent of compounding interest, leading to rich and fulfilling lives. In Evelyn’s case, poor choices at every important juncture have made her the worst possible version of all of her multidimensional selves. But that’s precisely why Alpha-Waymond contacted her; as a complete failure, Evelyn has the greatest amount of potential, so he believes only she can stop Jobu Tupaki, an Alphaverse renegade seemingly bent on destroying the entire multiverse. In order to combat Jobu Tupaki and legions of ‘verse-jumping warriors, Alpha-Waymond gives Evelyn a pair of earbuds that provide access to whatever skills she might need from her infinite number of parallel selves.
The hyperkinetic transitions depicting a kaleidoscope of alternate universes deserve to have seizure warnings, but the Daniels do a commendable job of balancing mayhem with tender moments. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan as Evelyn and Waymond, along with Stephanie Hsu as their estranged young adult daughter Joy, give whirlwind performances that cycle between intricate martial arts choreography and tear-jerking family drama, often while in service of absurdist comedy. To give you an idea of just how absurd, their family name of Wang foreshadows one of the film’s most outrageous set pieces – a battle involving giant rubber dildos. Such irreverence should come as no surprise considering the Daniels’ debut feature, Swiss Army Man, has a plot that revolves around a flatulating corpse. But with a runtime that approaches two and a half hours, the unbridled craziness and visual fireworks can be exhausting, especially the dragged-out climax where the Daniels struggle to resolve no less than six alternate universe plot threads.
At press time, Everything Everywhere All at Once has pretty much won everything everywhere, from Writer, Director, Producer and Screen Actor Guild awards to the Independent Spirit Awards, and it looks poised to win tons of gold statuettes at the 95th Academy Awards. Even if Everything Everywhere All at Once doesn’t sweep the Oscars, the fact that it entered competition with more nominations than any other film from 2022 could be seen as a cultural capitulation to the hyperlinked, multitasking, ADHD reality we currently occupy.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski
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