Wednesday, May 4, 2022

'Everything Everywhere All at Once': a surreal triumph


Everything Everywhere All At Once

Dir: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Scr: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Phot: Larkin Seiple

Ed: Paul Rogers

Premiere: March 25, 2022

139 min.

The multiverse is hot right now: a large number of films, TV shows, and written works are exploring the possibilities of this sci-fi subgenre. Like the easily resurrected superhero, the multiverse is a neat way to get around plot problems, but rarely is it used in a truly imaginative way.

But bonkers, happily, gloriously bonkers is “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” an exuberant sci-fi comedy about alternative dimensions that manages to also be a moving family drama. It’s an inspired excursion across countless realities, all executed in the name of getting your taxes done properly.

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) runs a laundromat, and lives in cramped confines above it with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan, who you will remember as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) and their adolescent daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Joy is struggling with coming out, and Evelyn is hostile to the idea. Waymond is so desperate for her attnntion that he files for divorce. They are being audited by the IRS, and Evelyn must gather family and receipts and go down to the tax office to face the unfriendly Deidre (a hilariously uglied-up Jamie Lee Curtis), who cites them for multiple failings.

In the midst of this mundanity, a cosmic storm is brewing. Evelyn is visited by Alpha Waymond, from an alternate universe. It turns out that every choice you make in life spawns a new universe, a new timeline for your life. Our Evelyn is the least successful of all possible Evelyns, explains Alpha Waymond, which gives her the greatest power to change. Somehow, Evelyn must fight her way across the multiverses to stop an evil avatar of Joy from destroying the multiverse with an Everything bagel, and reconcile herself with her life choices and with her daughter. (Trust me; it all makes sense in context.)

All these development crowd the frame with rapid-fire imagery and complications, and the film tears through its premises at breakneck speed, trusting in the viewer’s intelligence, daring us to keep up. Directors/screenwriters Dan Kwan and Daniels Scheinert take the enormous risk of making what could easily be an incoherent mess, rendering instead a dizzying but satisfying trip through all of Evelyn’s alternative futures.

Of special note are Larkin Seiple’s exquisite cinematography, Shirley Kurata’s out-of-this-world costume designs, and the dryly humorous performance of the prolific James Hong as Evelyn’s wheelchair-bound father, Gong Gong.

This film is nutty, unlike anything you’ve seen before. And even though its premise is well-used, it is used well.

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