Multiverses collide to gobsmacking effect in Daniels’ mind-blowing superhero fantasy. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a faulty firework of a film, a deranged zigzagging rocket shooting out sparks of oddball brilliance. While it gleefully nods to many other films (2001, The Matrix, Ratatouille and more), it is unlike anything you have seen before. Imagine a live action family therapy version of The Incredibles on magic mushrooms.
The film lives up to its name: sometimes it feels like too much. A running time of more than 2 and a half hours suggests Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert were deliberately stretching things out to match one of Marvel’s overblown blockbusters. But Everything Everywhere All at Once is a dizzying cinematic experience. It puts your brain in a blender and you walk out feeling all shook up.
Like the best fantasies, the film is rooted in normal life and relationships. The Wang family are struggling to keep their laundromat business profitable. Evelyn (Michele Yeoh) and Waymond’s (Ke Huy Kwan) marriage is shaky and their teenaged daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) resents her mother for not accepting her girlfriend.
A visit to the auditors becomes the unlikely launchpad to madcap adventures in parallel worlds and selves. Frustrated and dissatisfied in normal life, Evelyn is taught to ‘verse jump’ by a superhero version of her husband and discovers many different Evelyns exist out there: the brilliant woman, the kung fu fighter, the lesbian with wobbly frankfurter fingers or the talking rock with googly eyes.
She is told that ‘a great evil’ is threatening every world in the multiverse and Evelyn is the only one who can ‘take things back to how they’re supposed to be.’ This involves confronting Joy’s alter-ego, Jobu Tupaki, a nihilistic fashion monster who threatens to suck all life into her bagel hole of oblivion. How will Evelyn, who believes herself to be ‘bad at everything’, fix the world?
A neat and tidy ending seems unlikely, given the wild genre-hopping ride the filmmakers take us on. Amidst the scattershot possibilities of multiple lives in multiverses, we are left with pick ‘n’ mix nuggets of wisdom imparted by the film’s various characters. In what is perhaps its keynote speech, we are told: “It’s a cruel world and we’re all running round in circles … the one thing I do know is we have to be kind. Please be kind.”
Then again, there’s also Jobu Tupaki’s alternative take: “this is all a useless, swirling bucket of bullshit.” A bit harsh, though the audience will probably nod along to: “there are only a few specks of time when anything makes sense”.
What saves Everything Everywhere All at Once from over-reaching self-indulgence is, paradoxically, a down-to-earth quality. Amidst the visual splendour, it has a charming home-made quality, an engaging sensibility shared with more ‘ramshackle’ films such as Son of Rambo and Be Kind: Rewind.
Among the film’s many weird and wonderful visual delights are the crazy and outrageous succession of costumes worn by Jobu Tupaki – from pink Elvis with pet piglet accessory to office robot (wearing keyboards and printers etc). And you’re unlikely to forget Jamie Lee Curtis in tight mustard rollneck as kickass auditor, Deirdre Beaubeirdre.