The only predictable thing about Everything Everywhere All At Once is its unpredictability. Written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who are collectively known as Daniels, the hugely original film single-handedly rescues the idea of the multi-verse from the suits at Marvel Studios.
A short-lived lull before the storm introduces us to harried Chinese-American laundromat owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is seeking a divorce. An auditor wants to go over their account books. Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is upset at Evelyn for not introducing her girlfriend Becky to Evelyn’s autocratic father Gong Gong (James Hong).
The auditor Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) unsurprisingly turns out to be a tyrant. Waymond reveals an altogether more startling side after his body is possessed by an avatar from a parallel universe. Before Evelyn can say “What is the Matrix?”, she is sucked into a mine-bending journey across space and time, one in which she inhabits numerous personalities, including an actress straight out of a Wong Kar Wai movie, a chef, and a rock.
The “What if? question dogs Evelyn as she meets her altered daughter and husband across the universes. Could Evelyn have chosen differently and had another, more fulfilling destiny? Through judicious deployment of visual effects, imaginative tableaux and simple editing and camera tricks, the Daniels conjure up an adventure both wildly inventive and inventively, packed with visual pyrotechnics but also unexpected moment of tenderness.
As an extreme, hyperkinetic dramatisation of quotidian anxieties, Everything Everywhere All At Once takes its title very seriously. Ke Huy Quan, who played the stereotyped character Short Round in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, embodies this film’s deft handling of immigrant dreamers and the paths they may or may not take.
The performances are in perfect sync with the Daniels’ giddiness. Michelle Yeoh, at the front and centre of possibly the most memorable role of her career, is the anchor of a film that rarely stops once it gets going.
Sometimes sending up the gnomic martial arts characters she has played over her illustrious career, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star is an irresistible bundle of contradictions. She’s marvellously backed by Ke Huy Quan, effortlessly shape-shifting between dweeby husband and romantic warrior, and Stephanie Hsu as equal parts sullen daughter and fearsome rival to Evelyn. Jamie Lee Curtis has a blast too as the petty auditor Deirdre.
It’s sometimes hard to keep up with whatever the Daniels (who made their debut with Swiss Army Man) are throwing our way. Nearly always frenetic, absurdly funny although never cynical, the film is exhilarating but exhausting too. The middle portions have the potential to cause the eyeballs to get crossed.
That’s until the Daniels rearrange the particles for an extended climax that brings the surrealistic head trip back on track and then straight towards moist-eyed wonderment.