‘I’ ON CULTURE
Everything Everywhere All At Once had a sneak beginning. Not many people noticed it when it first came around last spring, but then by word of mouth it picked up a good-sized audience. It is a very different kind of movie, one that uses the multiverse as a playground to bounce all over the philosophical map. Somehow ideas like nihilism, existentialism, generational conflict mixed with Asian culture and eventually settled on an everything bagel as a symbol of the multiverse. Or maybe everything, if that is different. Different? You bet. But also fun.
Evelyn Quan (Michelle Yeoh) is a Chinese American immigrant running a laundromat with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan). They have a daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), a lesbian who enjoys pushing the fact in her parents’ face. On top of that, Evelyn’s father Gong Gong (James Hong) is visiting, and he is demanding and difficult. But Evelyn is most concerned with an upcoming visit with a not really pleasant IRS agent, Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis).
At the IRS meeting, Waymond’s body is taken over by “Alpha Waymond,” a version of her husband from the Alphaverse. He explains that there are many parallel universes because every choice in life creates a new one. And a version of Evelyn developed a way to “verse-jump” so they can access new skills and memories when they take over the bodies of their parallel universe bodies. The whole multiverse is now being threatened by villain Jobu Tupaki, the Alphaversion of Joy, whose mind had shattered from too many of the jumps — jumps that Alpha Evelyn had pushed her to do. And Jobu, by being able to be in many universes at once, has created an everything bagel type black hole that could destroy the multiverse.
Evelyn is given the verse-jumping tech to fight Jobu’s minions so she can jump to different universes. In most of them, she has flourished because she made different choices, such as becoming a kung fu master/movie star.
She also learns of Waymond’s plans for divorce. Alpha-Waymond believes that Evelyn, as the greatest “failure” of all Evelyns in the multiverse, has the untapped potential to defeat Jobu. Alpha-Gong Gong instructs her to kill Joy in order to stop Jobu from entering her universe through Joy. Evelyn refuses and decides to face Jobu by gaining powers through repeated verse-jumping. As Evelyn is chased by Alpha-Gong Gong’s soldiers, Jobu locates and kills Alpha-Waymond in the Alphaverse. As Jobu confronts Evelyn in her universe, Evelyn’s mind splinters, and she collapses, lifeless. And that’s just the start. There’s a lot more.
The cast, almost all Asian, is superb. Yeoh, an action star for years, has a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this. I enjoyed her immensely as the kung fu star, but she gave a marvelously shaded performance. Quan was really good. For those who want to feel really old, he played the boy named “Short Round” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Now he’s a middle-aged man. He manages just the right amount of gentility tempered with an iron core when it counted. Hsu is magnificent. She also was nominated for an Oscar, as were Quan and Curtis. Hsu’s different manifestations were fantastic. Her Elvis was incredible. I’ve read that a lot of people used it for last Halloween.
But in the end, it all comes down to the plot. Things, after a slow start to set the scene, move fast, occasionally being silly but wanting to be a bit silly. And it bandies fascinating ideas around. Jubu wants to destroy everything and Waymond believes in love as an ultimate experience, maybe the most important reason for living. Evelyn winds up being pushed to choose. And that creates the real tension.
I really liked this movie. It is long because it needs to be long. There are many elemental ideas that are dealt with. But this film could well win the Oscar because instead of pretending the audience are fools and lowering itself, it pushes us to think even as we feel. It’s all over television now. See it.