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‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Review: This Chaotic, Bonkers Trip Through The Multiverse Will Leave You With Googly-Eyed View Of Life

October 01, 2022 | by Jinal Bhatt

There’s no way you forget your first time reading a Douglas Adams book, particularly The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I experienced that precise emotion once again as I walked out of Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAAO). The sly nods to the book in the film (42!) definitely helped me verse-jump to this parallel. But even without it, I would still be able to make that association. EEAAO swims in the same absurd, unpredictable, WTF-is-happening-here energy and humour in its sci-fiction storytelling. But it remains at heart a deeply personal exploration of the big existential question, “What is the purpose of our existence in this universe?” Oh and, “Why is it a never-ending love-hate relationship between mothers and daughters?” (Kidding, but really though, ladies, am I? Is this not THE question?)

EEAAO is jam-packed with an outrageous number of themes like existentialism, nihilism, the Asian American immigrant experience, and mental health, the confluence of which can and will make you feel dizzy. Watching the film is akin to one hurtling theme park ride that feels so rewarding that you want to get on it, again and again (I have seen it twice now, and only then written this review). If only, its director duo, The Daniels (Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan), could convince cinemas worldwide to cancel the intermission!

Everything Everywhere All At Once stars Michelle Yeoh, along with Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate, and Harry Shum Jr.

 

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I dare not try and explain the film’s plot. But to give you a quick briefing before we jump into its many universes, the story takes us to a day in the life of a frazzled and just generally unhappy Chinese American woman, Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh). She runs a laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who is about to serve her divorce papers because she takes their marriage for granted and has no time for romance. He’ll do it if he can manage to get her attention because she’s busy sorting out their accounts before their meeting with an IRS agent. Their business is being audited. To sprinkle some more seasoning on this loaded bagel, Evelyn’s demanding and disapproving father Gong Gong (James Hong) is flying down from Hong Kong to be with them. There’s a party the same evening and everything has to be perfect. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), brings home her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), to help out, but is frustrated by her mother’s low-key denial of their relationship, especially in front of Gong Gong.

Evelyn, Waymond, and Gong Gong are at the IRS office with the exhausting inspector Diedre, when Evelyn’s visited by someone from the ‘Alpha verse’. And just like that, without much pomp or purple haze, she gets tapped into the multiverse. What happens next is absolute bonkers, which is fantastic fun for us but not so much for poor, already at her wit’s end, Evelyn. She must quickly learn to adapt to the rules of the multiverse, which deems her a sort of Chosen One, because, well, she is kind of a sad failure. And that means, naturally, it has its own villain. Jobu Tupaki, a frankly terrifying version of Joy who can exist in all universes at the same time and wants to destroy the multiverse. In fact, she has built something called an Everything Bagel, an all-sucking black hole of despair, which will help her do just that. So now, Evelyn must get really good at using verse-jumping’, a technology that lets people access the skills, memories, and even the emotions of the parallel universe versions of themselves.

What were The Daniels on when they wrote this film?

I walked out of this movie wondering what it would be like to just be a fly on the wall of The Daniels’ writers’ room while they were writing and plotting this film. It moves at such break-neck speed, enough to make you feel dizzy on behalf of the characters living it on screen. Add to that, it is the most imaginative, outrageous, and fun portrayal of a multiverse that I’ve seen. A universe where people have hotdogs for fingers, so the feet do all the heavy lifting? Check. A universe where the characters are rocks? Check!

There’s even a universe where Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn doesn’t elope and marry Waymond but goes on to become a martial arts movie star, a rather meta evoking of her IRL career. I love that the makers have actually pushed the boundaries of what crazy universes could be explored without turning down the speed, the stakes, or the cleverness of it all by notches because the audience wouldn’t get all the nods and winks. And nods and winks to films there are plenty. Whether it’s to the wuxia genre when Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn is whopping multiversal asses, or what I felt was an evoking of In The Mood For Love (maybe because Instagram kept showing me posts about it around the time I watched the film!) when movie star Evelyn and her universe’s Waymond have a conversation in a back alley about their lives. The most hilarious one of the lot involves a rat, that’s all I am saying!

The truly remarkable feat though is that the film does not waver or even break its momentum when it’s seamlessly getting personal and tackling Evelyn’s many internal universes: Her lacklustre marriage, her strained relationship with her daughter Joy, her daddy issues, the struggle of being an Asian-American immigrant trying to grab at her American dream, and her silent depression that stares back at her through her own daughter’s eyes. So while Evelyn has to race against time to ‘download’ martial arts skills from her movie star persona in a parallel universe using tech she is only beginning to grasp, there are also the movie star’s memories and emotions of giving up on love and how that turned out for her that are working on the back end, equipping her with all that she needs to fix her fragmented internal multiverse. It helps Evelyn come to terms with the truth of her marriage with Waymond in her own universe. The tempo doesn’t break, not a bit, but the emotional effect isn’t diminished, only heightened. 

The Multiverse Of Madness and Sadness

The dynamic between Evelyn and Joy/ Jobu Tupaki is easily my favourite thing about this film. The multiverse as a metaphor for the overwhelming fragments of our lives that get created every time we choose a different path, and the Everything Bagel as a metaphor for a black hole that is born of the chaos within us, and every sad, depressing, ‘nothing really matters’ thought laden onto it… are ideas beautifully represented in the film’s physical world. But the beauty of the film is that its physical elements still retain the absurdity and hilariousness as part of a film that is a sci-fi dark comedy. The sheer craziness of the bagel allegory, or that inserting a certain [redacted] in your [redacted] would be the key to jumping universes blows your mind!

No scene proves it better than the conversation that the mother and daughter have on a rocky ledge, in a universe where they’re both rocks. Yep, rocks. Or when movie star Evelyn converses with her long-lost love, the Waymond of her universe, of what ifs. Or, or, or, when Diedre and Evelyn are in the hotdog-fingers universe, playing the piano with their feet. A true multiverse of madness and sadness, if you will, conquered by compassion, kindness, and just a googly-eyed way of looking at things. Or sometimes, just jumping in after someone, and sometimes, just letting them go. It was all so moving, I cried. Both times I watched the film.

As an empath who sees (and often, feels) the utter helplessness and nihilism of the generations around me, and is so afraid that she would suck at being a parent, Everything Everywhere All At Once makes for a non-preachy lesson in the importance of breaking the cycle of toxic family patterns and generational trauma. God knows, when we millennials become parents, so frazzled with our distorted work ethics and our rigid opinions, parenting is going to be an everything everywhere all at once task. To harmonize that chaos, hoo boy, will require some advanced emotional tech!

We already know Michelle Yeoh is amazing in all universes, yes?

Michelle Yeoh is, without a doubt, absolutely brilliant, selling you Evelyn’s world: The tiredness of a hassled business owner, the frustrations of a mother, the urgency of a daughter seeking approval, the longing of a woman who had no time for love, and her reaction to the absurdity that was multiverse travel. When Evelyn finally ‘gets it’, the transformation is a treat to watch. Both Ke Huy Quan and James Hong hold their own, especially shifting gears between their Alpha verse and real verse versions. But it is Stephanie Hsu as Jobu Tupaki and Jamie Lee Curtis as Diedre who made the loudest thump for me. Their characters are outrageous, put in outrageous situations, and I thoroughly enjoyed how they stole the scenes they were in.

Verdict

We carry infinite universes within ourselves. And the simplest choices we make every day define what the universe we exist in will look like, both on the inside and outside, and how that, in turn, will shape us. One of the choices I made was to hold on to the hope that Everything Everywhere All At Once would get a big screen release in India and that was the only way to watch it. Naturally, my life is better for having watched what is touted (I mean, it is, it is) as one of the best films of this year on the big screen.

But, you know how there are a few things that are an absolute constant in every universe? For me, it’s the fact that Everything Everywhere All At Once is the most brilliant, unimaginably chaotic, googly-eyed trip through the multiverse that should not be missed, irrespective of the size of the screen you watch it on. You’ll think its sole ambition is to boggle your head with another ‘multiverse’ outing, but it is really yanking you by the heart with the personal dynamics of its heroine and her family, and not letting you go till you feel sore with all the hurtling through universes and emotions and really feeling all of it. A reminder that we must look inward and use compassion to bring peace to the chaotic multiverses inside of us so that even if splintered, we may exist in all of our universes in total zen, all at once.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is brought to India by Impact Films, is currently in theatres.

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