It’s a lot harder to ‘one line’ the sophomore film by Daniels’ Kwan and Scheinert than was the case with their first. If Swiss Army Man was Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse comedy, Everything Everywhere All at Once is…? Well, it’s the one with the weaponised dildos. It’s also the one with Michelle Yeoh’s googly third eye and hot dog fingers. It’s even the one where a pair of pebbles enjoy an existential debate on the meaning of life. When Jamie Lee Curtis declared her newest release would ‘out marvel Marvel’, she wasn’t just pot stirring. This is super stuff on a heroically limited budget.
No less modest are the film’s pretensions. While the Daniels’ unfailingly live up to the grandeur of their title, all that which lies beneath the everything proves no less compelling. It’s a domestic drama with domestic highs and domestic lows. A profound and intimate character piece, wrapped in wild and wonderful dressings. There’s beautiful honesty in the film’s opening scenes, which prove so compelling a prelude to the multiversal mind-bending that one might almost wish the twist never come. The setting is a flat-topped laundromat. It’s the eve of Chinese New Year and a family is crumbling within.
Yeoh is sensational as the perpetually dissatisfied Evelyn Wang. It’s her laundromat, run in partnership with hapless husband Waymond, who is played by freshly un-retired Goonies star Ke Huy Quan. Theirs is a marriage as claustrophobic as the chaos in which they live. The film’s terrific first frame, captured in mirrored reverse, encapsulates the relentlessness of their existence. A cacophony of chaos frames Evelyn. She’s a failed dreamer, ill-suited to business management and, she will soon learn, the very worst possible version of herself in an infinite spectrum of alternatives.
On one periphery floats squeaky voiced Waymond, divorce papers timidly in hand. On the other is their daughter – Stephanie Hsu’s thinly veiled metaphor, Joy – whose homosexuality Evelyn notionally accepts but not so far that she will tell her own father (James Hong – still spry at 93) A grasp of the Asian-American diaspora at the heart of Lulu Wang’s The Farewell and Pixar toon Turning Red is key to an understanding of the film, which explores equally themes of millennial nihilism and existential despair.
There’s buoyancy too, of course. Shades of vibrant exuberance rendered all the brighter as the darkness looms. It’s in waves of eye-popping visual eclecticism that the Daniels’ thrive. The pace is relentless, with thrilling, universe hopping action perfectly synced to Larkin Seiple’s delightfully colourful cinematography. Herein, the film recalls all from Avildsen’s original Karate Kid to the entire fragmented oeuvre of Wong Kar-wai. There are overt nods to The Matrix and even Ratatouille, while real life clips of Yeoh are pilfered from red carpet footage at the Crazy Rich Asians premiere. When so much is thrown into a single pot as here, there’s inevitability in finding that not all lands. What’s remarkable is just how much of the madness does.
Rooting all is Yeoh, whose electric screen presence brings superlative and much needed cohesion to the wider whole. As Evelyn reaches into the ether and draws upon her alternate selves, there’s a playfulness in the sense that Yeoh’s own career is being mapped out before her. The same is true of Curtis’ gloriously unflattering IRS inspector Deirdre. So famous a scream queen, Curtis is here the lumbering stalker. It’s a flavour of witty self-reference handled with the sort of glee-filled airiness so lacking in the increasingly laden Marvel production line. The film’s shonkier moments only add to the fun. Doctor Strange grew a shiny new computer generated eye. Evelyn’s is glued to her forehead. It’s not subtle but it is subtle. So subtle. It’s where the microcosm meets the macrocosm and so much more besides.