It takes a few minutes to get acclimated to Everything Everywhere All at Once, a visionary and visual effects packed gumbo of genres from Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (the directing duo known as Daniels). For a very brief period of time, I was as skeptical in taking the journey as our central character Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is. That didn’t last long. By the time I’d witnessed hot dog fingers, raccoons assisting hibachi meal preparations, and world destroying bagels, Everything had 100% won my heart over. I mean that literally. This is an emotional ride by its third act… in a film with raccoons assisting hibachi meal preparations. It’s cliche to say “you’ve never seen anything quite like this!” Not this time as it’s applicable and glorious.
Evelyn is running a laundromat in poor financial shape alongside her kind but somewhat listless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). This is not exactly their vision of the American dream after they emigrated from China. Evelyn’s ailing father (James Hong) now lives with them, but years ago he strongly felt Waymond wasn’t good enough for his girl. Maybe he was right as Waymond has served his spouse with divorce papers. Evelyn can’t accept daughter Joy’s lesbianism or girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel). This causes Joy (Stephanie Hsu) to rebel in ways both small and, as we’ll soon learn, hugely reality altering.
This family baggage is all brought to a cluttered cubicle manned with authority by Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), an IRS agent. She takes her auditing duties very seriously and doesn’t like Evelyn’s spin about her washer and dryer location. Everything quickly gets weirder than the awards on Deirdre’s desk (you’ll see). The lackadaisical Waymond seemingly has a personality transplant into some sort of a super spy. Now identifying as Alpha Waymond, he explains to his perplexed wife that he’s come from an alternative world called the Alphaverse. In short, there are infinite dimensions (or Multiverses) where these characters exist. They are created by the choices that Evelyn makes. She’s a movie star in one or a chef in another (where we find that raccoon) and so forth. In some, she’s even inanimate objects. One constant is that the villainous Jobu Tapaki is attempting to destroy the Multiverse. And that deadly bad girl is always a version of Joy.
I’ll interrupt this plot description by coming clean and admitting that there’s no way to properly contextualize this movie. Readers of the previous three paragraphs might be scratching their heads and I get it. During the first half hour or so, that’s how I felt. How on Earth do hot dogs for fingers factor in? You have to see it to believe it. And you have to see it.
Kwan and Scheinert take all these wild ingredients and create a feast for movie lovers. There’s a kitchen sink mentality that can initially be overwhelming. Yet as it barrels along, I realized I didn’t want to leave the kitchen. It manages to be lots of stuff at the same time (maybe there’s a better way to say that). This is a tribute to the cinematic legacy of Yeoh, who’s given the role of a lifetime and still shows off her martial arts prowess at age 59. It’s a welcome return to the screen for Huy Quan nearly 40 years after his iconic child performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. For Hsu, this is star making work as the disgruntled daughter and Curtis nails her part as the frumpy and fervent government employee.
When Everything reaches it third act, I was gobsmacked by how moving it became. There are deep themes explored among the wiener digits and badgering cooks. This is about the love and sometimes tough love that families go through. The Daniels go as far to explore meaning of life questions in absurd yet ultimately boldly touching ways. It’s marvelously exhilarating.
**** (out of four)