Review: EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE A Stunning Work Of Originality

Everything Everywhere All At OnceTo say that something, a movie especially, is “mind blowing” feels like something of a cliche, a promise that the described thing seldom lives up to. But sometimes, the cliche fits and that is the case with Everything Everywhere All At Once, an original and, yes, mind-blowing film that is both a universe-hopping epic and a tender, emotional story about the relationship between a mother and daughter.

Evelyn’s life is pretty much exactly where she never thought it would be. Having immigrated to the United States as a young woman with her husband against her father’s wishes, she now finds herself living above the laundromat the couple own, a laundromat which is deep in tax debt. On their way to meet with an IRS auditor, Evelyn’s husband Waymond seemingly goes into a trance an reveals to her that there are a multitude of universes that exist, each one made up of variations of everyone based on their life choices. The inhabitants of a different universe have created a way for people to access their alternate self’s memories and skills, but they have also discovered that there is an evil force that wants to consume the multiverse. The only one who can stp it is this particular version of Evelyn, as she is the “worst version of herself.”

Without getting into spoiler territory, which is hard to do with this film, Everything Everywhere All At Once is packed to the gills with all sorts of wildly diverse ideas and concepts – from comic book cosmology to existential angst to Honk Kong action films to absurdist comedy. And somehow it all gels into one of the most imaginative and original films of the year. Kinetic and yet contemplative, it stresses the importance of our humanity even while it argues about the inconsequentialness of it all.

To be sure, we’ve seen stories involving alternate timelines and parallel universes before. Audiences are so used to them now, that where in Back To The Future II the film had to stop and take a moment to explain how things worked with a literal lecture involving diagrams on a chalkboard, Everything Everywhere All At Once is able to just throw out a quick explanation literally on the run. And if it doesn’t quite hold together logically, the film’s energy helps to make it all make a certain sense within its own storytelling.

But while the plot of the film is concerned with finding a way to stop the impending destruction of all the various universes, the core of the film is the relationship between Evelyn and her daughter Joy. While it partly seems to be a standard generational gap that lies at the heart of the pair’s issues, it runs much deeper than that. Evelyn is driven by her regret over the choices she has made in her life and is desperate to make sure that Joy doesn’t make similar bad choices. But she doesn’t realize that her disapproval of Joy’s direction in life mirrors her father’s own condemnation of her own choice to move to America with Waymond. It’s a cycle of broken relationships, and the need to repair that cycle that become to true stakes of the film.

I would certainly not be the first person to observe that film roles for women, and especially minority women, are often flat and without dimension. But Everything Everywhere All At Once serves as a counterpoint to that both textually and meta-textually. Through it’s multiversal conceit, we get to see Evelyn’s various lives she could have lived, the panoply of the different roles she would take on in her life, allowing Yeoh to play a number of different shades of her character. Some of what we see is actually lifted from star Michelle Yeoh’s own life, reminding us that this actress who has given cinema a wide variety of work. What better way to subconsciously reinforce the idea that a character has had the potential to live multiple, various lives than by casting an actress who has played multiple, various parts.

But Yeoh isn’t the only actor here in need of accolades. Ke Huy Quan not only brings a subtly to his work as Evelyn’s long-suffering wife Waymond, but uses that deftness to differentiate between the Waymond we first meet in the film and the one from an alternate reality who hijacks Waymond’s body at various points in the story. It is a great performance that leaves one lamenting the fact that he has been absent from screens for decades since his heyday as a child actor in The Goonies and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

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About Rich Drees 7203 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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