Wednesday February 08, 2023
Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
I know it doesn’t make much sense to say “Hey, that was a little excessive,” when excess is the point of a movie; when it’s right there in the title. But here I go.
There are moments in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” when I thought, “Wow, that feels like a poignant ending,” and then … nope, keeps going. OK, how about that one? No? Another half hour of this? You wonder if the film’s creators, Daniels, i.e., Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, ever thought, “So maybe not the hotdog-hand universe?” But then you learn it’s the name of one of the film’s production companies: A24, AGBO Production, and Hotdog Hands. So I guess it means something to them. For me, it was just a universe too far, too silly, or too flaccid. And I definitely didn’t need the excreting ketchup and mustard.
What other universes are there in this non-Marvel multiverse? Off the top of my head:
- Martial artist/movie star
- Sign spinner
That’s not rock ‘n’ roll or Dwayne Johnson; that’s when they’re rocks.
Evelyn and Waymond Wang (Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan) are Chinese immigrants living in a cluttered apartment above their run-down laundromat in Simi Valley, California, dealing with: 1) her aged father Gong Gong (James Hong); 2) their lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu); and 3) a tax audit that includes a lien against the laundromat. They’re in danger of losing everything. They deal with all of this in opposite ways. He leans toward the positive—finding joy in googly eyes, for example—while she frets and carps. Even as he tries to buoy her up, as is his nature, he’s also drawn up divorce papers for her to sign. Because she’s just not there anymore. For anyone. She’s always onto the next thing. She’s trying to be everything everywhere all at once.
I like this opening stuff. I like that Evelyn calls Jenny Slate’s character “Big Nose” in Mandarin, that she says her daughter is “fat,” that she has trouble with the lesbian relationship—particularly introducing the lesbian relationship to her father. I once lived in Taipei, Taiwan, and it all rang true.
It’s at the IRS building that the multiverse fantasy begins. In the elevator, Waymond’s personality shifts, he becomes someone who takes charge, an action hero, and he gives Evelyn earpods and instructions. The universe is at stake, he tells her. Then he reverts back to his usual amiable self. She calls him sangxinbing. Crazy person. I heard that all the time in Taiwan, too.
The directions are nonsensical:
- Switch shoes
- Imagine you’re in the janitor’s closet
- Press the green button (on the earpod)
Why does she go through with it? Maybe because her current reality is too awful? Their auditor is Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), the stickler’s stickler, and she’s calling Evelyn on all of her tax write-offs. A karaoke machine as a business expense for a laundromat? C'mon. Receipts are spread over the desk, Waymond is being annoyingly cordial, so Evelyn follows the instructions from Alpha Waymond. Which is when we get that great shot of Yeoh pulled back in her rollie-chair and into the janitor’s closet. There, Alpha Waymond tells her that a great evil named Jobu Tupaki is spreading through the mulitverse. And she’s the only one who can stop it.
The One. That trope again. I’m not a fan of The One movies.
Except later we get the reason why she’s The One, and it’s brilliant.
Evelyn: There is no way I am the Evelyn you are looking for. … I’m no good at anything.
Alpha Waymond: Exactly. I’ve seen thousands of Evelyns, but never an Evelyn like you. You have so many goals you never finished, dreams you never followed. You’re living your worst you. … You're capable of anything because you're so bad at everything.
She’s The One because she’s us. The earpods allow her to move through the multiverse and absorb the experiences and talents of her other selves. We see one version reject Waymond’s marriage proposal, then become a great martial artist and a glamorous movie star. Once our Evelyn absorbs those experiences, she's a kung fu expert, too. Basically she becomes Michelle Yeoh.
I’ll cut to the chase: the great evil, Jobu Tupaki, is her daughter Joy. And while our Evelyn sees Jobu as the reason for the discord in her own world—the whole lesbian angle—the Alpha version of her father, Gong Gong, tells her she was the one responsible: “In my universe, you push your own daughter too hard until you broke her. You created Jobu Tupaki.”
There’s so much to unpack there, right? Maybe it’s all metaphor. Her daughter’s lesbianism fracturing Evelyn’s tidy worldview, creating realms of possibilities she never considered. But even as the movie was deepening for me, it kept spinning off into silly worlds—including “Raccaccoonie,” a takeoff on Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” with a handsome actor, Harry Shum Jr., becoming a great chef thanks to the raccoon on his head; and a universe where Evelyn and the tax auditor are a couple and everyone has hot dogs for fingers.
Despite all of these realms of possibility, the true battle for Evelyn’s soul still comes down to a binary: kindness (as represented by Waymond) vs. nihilism (as represented by Jobu’s doomsday machine: the bagel with everything on it). Between universes, Waymond articulates his point of view:
CEO Waymond: When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.
Our Waymond: The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please. Be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.
CEO Waymond: I know you see yourself as a fighter. Well, I see myself as one, too. This is how I fight.
I love all that. It felt like the climax to me, the necessary lesson, but Evelyn’s immediate response is, “It’s too late, Waymond.” Really? No, it just takes a while to sink in. She has to go back to the hotdog-hand universe, and be offered the bagel, and what all else, before, ah, OK, now she decides to fight like Waymond. But once that happens, again, it’s great. One of Waymond’s googly eyes becomes her third eye—a perfect distillation of the movie’s themes—and she vanquishes the enemy not by pounding them into submission but by giving them what they want: these two get married, that one is relieved of pain, the other is sadomasochistically spanked.
And that’s how she wins. Done and done.
Well, no. We have to go back to the raccaccoonie universe, where Evelyn becomes the raccoon on the dude’s head, and then that’s translated into our universe where she battles the others on his shoulders. But even here she gives her opponents what they want—puppies, babies, cupcakes—and that’s how she wins. Done and done.
Well, no. Now Alpha Gong Gong tells her what a disappointment she is and how she’s not his daughter, so everything in all the universes begins to fall apart again. But then Evelyn fights back. She tells her father she is not going to do to her daughter what he did to her—give her up—and that it’s OK that Joy is a mess, like her mother, because, like her mother, the universe gave her a good person to love. And that’s when Evelyn, with great fanfare, is finally able to introduce Joy’s girlfriend to Gong Gong.
I have to admit, the air kind of went out of me. Really? We have to travel through universes to overcome homophobia? In 20-fucking-22?
But at least that’s how she wins. Done and--
Even as she’s introducing the girlfriend to Gong Gong, Joy pulls away, and Jobu is turning toward the bagel, and mother and daughter have to fight through the many universes—including as pinatas—until they're both exhausted. And then we get more speechifying. Out in the parking lot, Joy says she’s tired, and she doesn’t want to hurt anymore, and blah blah let me go. And Evelyn says “OK.” But then more memories/universes flood her brain, and she says no, not OK, and Evelyn has her say. And none of it as poignant as Waymond’s speech a half hour earlier.
I have to mention: I loved, loved, loved the fight by the elevator, the homage to Jackie Chan, with Alpha Waymond using our Waymond’s moneybelt, with its pink stuffed animal, as nunchucks, and taking out all the IRS security guards. So fun. And it was nice seeing Quan again. He was the kid from the second Indiana Jones movie, and apparently he retired from acting 20 years ago. Well, he’s back, baby. Though it does underscore the 10-year age difference between the Wangs. Two years before Quan was the little kid in the “Raiders” sequel, Yeoh was Miss Malaysia. (Not bad, Short Round.)
Again: the movie is fun, and poignant at times; it just goes too long. There's a line from “Moneyball”: He hit a homerun and didn’t even realize it. That feels like what the Daniels did here. They hit a homerun but kept rounding the bases. Someone should’ve told them they’d already won the game.