Movie review: Everything Everywhere All At Once

(courtesy IMP Awards)

In a cinematic age of sequels, prequels and leveraged, synergised and rehashed IP utilisation, it is beyond refreshing and frankly quite exhilarating, to come across a film that is boldly, unapologetically and mind-blowingly, heart-stoppingly and gut-bustingly funny in its originality.

Everything Everywhere All At Once, from the inspired and joyously offbeat imaginative minds of writing and directing team, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, knowing professionally and with great affection as “Daniels”, is cleverly and affectingly unlike anything you have seen in a good long while, that it almost redefines what an original film idea can look like.

If, of course, you have seen “Swiss Army Man” back in 2016, you will be intimately familiar with the kind if brilliantly thoughtful crazy that Daniels are capable of, bringing a batshit bonkers bananas sensibility to the table but leavening it in some powerful poignant ways with the kind of raw humanity that usually sits happily in more indie or arthouse fare.

Bringing two such disparate elements together is fraught with all kinds of risk since one could quite easily consume the other, resulting in a film that is all stunningly impressive nonsense with no real reason for being, or so lost in its own deep look into the human psyche that all the visual and narrative madness loses its edge in an earnest examination of what it means to be human.

Somehow though Daniels avoid either extreme, landing happily in a wholly thrilling middle with Everything Everywhere All At Once which is as breathtakingly nuts as an almond farm at harvest time and yet so damn affecting that you walk away from it glad it’s shone a light on little explored parts of your soul.

Happily embracing the narrative belle of the ball du jour, the multiverse, which posits there are infinite variation on a theme when it comes to reality with versions very much like us by degrees and others so different as to be unrecognisable as the same person, Everything Everywhere All At Once dives into the idea that somewhere out there exists a version of ourselves that is doing considerably better as living this often disappointing thing we call life.

The person at the centre of romp into a Matrix-like version, or rather versions, of the world we know, is Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh proving, once again, that there is nothing this talented actress cannot do), a laundromat owner with caring, patient, if effectual husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who feels manifestly disappointed and overwhelmed by her lacklustre life.

Caught up in an Internal Revenue Service audit of her business, which is not quite where she saw herself landing when she ran away from home and her dismissively authoritarian father, played by James Hong, to America many years earlier, Evelyn is unhappy with the state of her life but clearly unable to know or understand how to change it.

Rather than plunging us straight into the merriment and inspired insanity, which is actually far less mad than it looks with every step a carefully choreographed step into alternate realities that make superb sense when you dig down beneath the colour, noise and existential mania, Everything Everywhere All At Once takes its time with its set-up helping us to understand why an invitation to see what lies beyond the dimensional barrier ends up proving so irresistible to Evelyn.

By any sane and rational measure, the entreaty by a version of Waymind, who’s way braver, more forthright and and far more self-possessed than the man she knows, to join him on a deadly serious magical mystery tour is one that should be rejected instantly out of hand, but Evelyn, weighed by faltering relationships with her father, husband and teenage lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu who is stunningly good in her role) and a pervasive sense of dislocation and ennui, decides she has nothing to lose by diving straight into the multiverse.

Not that she knows that’s what it is, of course, and one of the refreshingly grounded things about Everything Everywhere All At Once is that it never once makes out that what is happening to Evelyn, who is a chosen one of sorts to repel a great evil (the exact nature of which is BRILLIANT) spreading through the multiverse, is in any way normal.

Even at the height of the action which is as big, brutal and massively over the top as the trailer would lead you to expect, Evelyn, and pretty much everyone from her reality, acknowledges that the very idea of what’s happening to them is preposterous in every conceivable way.

For all its gloriously good and near-perfectly outlandish moments, some hilariously crude, other animation-worthy imaginative but all of them inspired as hell (to draw on the talents and skills of your alternate self, you need to “verse jump” which is triggered by some very unorthodox and comedically rich means), Everything Everywhere All At Once is at its very heart a film that explores what it is like to be alone.

Existentially marooned and trapped in a cocoon of her own lacklustre decisions, Evelyn is effectively alone, unable to see any point in continuing her marriage, continuing to try to reach and connect with her daughter or persisting with life choices that have shown themselves to be soul-sapping deadends.

Time and again in a film that is as heartfelt as it is hilarious, Everything Everywhere All At Once shows that it has a beating heart as big as the multiverse, one which recognises that we all long for connection, belonging and purpose but are not entirely sure how to bring them about.

Evelyn is floundering, as is everyone around her in their own way, whether they admit to it or not, and it’s not until Evelyn in thrust into the gobsmackingly thrills and spills, all rendered in ways that are colourful, full on and just plain loopy (in one reality the evolutionary humanoid winners have hotdogs for hands), that she understands what it is that she really wants from life.

The ending of Everything Everywhere All At Once is unashamedly warm and fuzzy and emotionally inclusive that reaffirms how reconnecting with those you are actively or often just unwittingly estranged from can remake your life in remarkably powerful ways, but right to the end it manages to balance the mad with the meaningful, the crazy with the caring and the silly with the very, very serious.

Like a magical trip to all the place your life could take you bundled in with an examination of all the reasons why it didn’t, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a rare and madcap gem of a film that manages to dazzle you with an inventiveness of worldbuilding that astounds and overwhelms in the most marvellous of ways while putting humanity and heart front and centre, creating in the process one of the most original and thought-provokingly movies you are likely to see in this or any other year (providing of course that your alternate self hasn’t got access to an even better slate of films which seems doubtful when movies are as gloriously good as this).

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