The enthusiasm for A24’s latest “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has been deafening, with early reactions ranging from high praise to full-blown hyperbole. Admittedly, that has made keeping my own personal expectations in check a little difficult. On one hand A24 is a distributor with a tremendous track record when it comes to releasing bold original independent movies. On the other hand, first-takes can be a hard thing to gauge, and they can sometimes resemble trendy groupthink rather than original reactions.
After some initial worry, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has finally made its way to our market. And while I appreciate much of what it’s going for, the movie ended up being a tough sit. Without question, the film is an ambitious undertaking for the co-writing and co-directing duo of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who collectively refer to themselves as “Daniels”). Unfortunately their ambition often gives way to overindulgence making this overlong and overstuffed genre stew a well-meaning but exhausting experience.
The film’s biggest plus is easily Michelle Yeoh. She’s long been a terrific actress and here she fully commits 110%. She truly is the movie’s anchor and her role demands a ton emotionally, physically, and even comedically. It’s pretty amazing watching Yeoh tie all of those threads together especially considering how erratic the movie can get at times. Blunt stylistic choices and some particularly wild attempts at humor make things needlessly messy, yet Yeoh never misses a beat.
Yeoh’s character Evelyn is the story’s centerpiece. When she was young, Evelyn ran off and married Waymond (Jonathan Ke Quan) much to the chagrin of her disapproving parents. These days the couple own and run a neighborhood laundromat and live in small apartment right above it. The movie begins with Evelyn chugging through her hectic yet mundane existence. “Laundry and taxes” is her life in a nutshell as she and Waymond struggle to keep their laundromat afloat while preparing for an audit by the IRS.
Meanwhile Evelyn’s elderly father (James Hong) is set to pay a visit and her rebellious daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) wants to introduce him to her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel). But knowing what her old-fashioned father’s reaction will be, Evelyn hides it, souring her relationship with her daughter even more. This forms one of the movie’s central themes – a mother reconnecting with her daughter after bucking her ‘old ways’ of thinking. It’s all pretty on-the-nose and it’s not hard to figure out how things are going to play out. The only real suspense is in how chaotic things will get in between.
The craziness kicks in when Evelyn is contacted by a Waymond from another universe. Call him Alpha Waymond and through a string of long never-ending exposition drops he explains to Evelyn (and us) the rules of this movie’s world. Over time Alpha Waymond rattles on about “infinite multiverses”, “bringing balance”, and even a line about Evelyn being “the One” (all obvious nods to “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, and the MCU). I understand laying the groundwork, but to be honest I quickly grew tired of the details. And the more they went on about how it all worked the more my mind wandered.
But that only scratches the surface. As it turns out, there are enough ideas and interests stuffed into this thing to fill at least three seasons of a television series. Yet it’s all crammed into this one movie which sees the Daniels frantically shoehorning in every possible idea that must have come to their collective minds. Operating under the notion that ‘more is not enough’, the filmmakers move from exposition-heavy to furiously bouncing across nearly every genre. That sounds cool, but too often the chaos overshadows the human element. In fact, at times the movie seems far more interested in its own boldness and peculiarity. That leaves it scrambling at the end to bring things back to an emotional level.
As Evelyn learns the technique of ‘verse-jumping’, she’s able to tap into the memories (and skills) of her parallel selves. This is where we’re introduced to a universe where everyone has hotdogs for fingers, a chef with a raccoon on his head, and there’s a verse-hopping bagel cult (yep, you read that right) ran by Alpha Joy, aka Jobu Tupaki. There’s actually meant to be a poignant mother/daughter element to the bagel cult. But as with so much in this movie, it’s overshadowed by the brazen showiness and all-out absurdity of nearly everything else.
What’s most frustrating about “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is that it has the pieces for something special. Tops on that list is the cast. Yeoh is sensational and it was great seeing Jonathan Ke Quan handed a meaty role. We even get a bobbed Jamie Lee Curtis playing part IRS inspector/part bagel cult assassin (she’s terrific). And the story has good things to say about finding oneself, the messiness of life, and pondering the question of “What if?”. But whether it’s the draining exposition of the first half or the smothering non-stop ridiculousness of the second half, the film never finds a good balance. It ends up as something that could’ve possibly flourished as a streaming series rather than being the well-meaning but tiresome 140 minutes it becomes. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is now showing in theaters.