Everything Everywhere All at Once, Review: Good, bad and worse, All at Once
Trying to define Everything Everywhere All at Once is like trying to define a feature film itself. A narrative. A beginning middle and an end, an assembly of actors, some known some unknown, some from one country, others from other countries, playing roles or characters, an entity shot by a camera, consisting of motion and still pictures, mainly motion pictures. Of 70 minutes+ duration. Can currently be viewed on cinema screens or TV sets or phones or tablets or screens devised by latest technology. Usually has a story, a screenplay and dialogue. May have special effects, sound effects and video effects. Computer Generated Images. Might include animation. Has continuity, match-cuts, jump-cuts, over-the-shoulder shots, two-shots, establishing shots, long shots, mid-long-shots, mid-close shots, close-ups, extreme close-ups, wide-angle shots, crane, drone or helicopter shots. Hand-held cameras. Background music score, songs and ambient sound effects. Split-screen, multiple images. Make-up, costumes, action and fights. Thrills. Suspense, drama, comedy, biography, political themes, films made for a cause, kids’ stuff like cartoons. There is nothing to prevent any one film from having all of this in it, and more. You are watching Everything Everywhere All at Once!
We have heard of and seen theatre of the absurd. We have seen a few absurd films too. But this one is a front ranker. An American film that was written with Jackie Chan in mind, 12 years ago, it finds release in 2022 with Michelle Yeoh coming in for Chan. Guess what? This absurdist film has a very plausible story-line. And I will go with the guy(s) who did their home-work better than me (I was having a tough time trying to recall narrative elements in the barrage of non-narrative content) and put it on the web. Evelyn Quan Wang is a Chinese American immigrant who runs a struggling laundromat with her husband, Waymond. Tensions are high: the laundromat is being audited by the IRS, Waymond (Waymond? That is a first) is trying to serve Evelyn divorce papers, Evelyn’s demanding father, Gong (this is Mandarin for maternal grandfather, pronounced more like Kong Kong) has just arrived from Hong Kong, and Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, has been trying to get her mother to accept her girlfriend, Becky, as her gay partner.
At a meeting with IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre (that’s a first too), Waymond’s personality changes when his body is briefly taken over by Alpha Waymond, a version of Waymond from a universe he calls the “Alphaverse”. Alpha Waymond explains to Evelyn that many parallel universes exist, since every choice made creates a new universe. The people of the Alphaverse, led by the late Alpha Evelyn, developed “verse-jumping” technology that allows people to access the skills, memories, and body of their parallel universe counterparts by fulfilling specific conditions. The multiverse is being threatened by Jobu Tupaki, the Alphaverse version of Joy. Her mind was splintered after Alpha Evelyn pushed her to extensive verse-jump; Jobu Tupaki now experiences all universes at once and can verse-jump and manipulate matter at will. With her godlike power she has created a black hole-like “everything bagel” (yes, bagel) that can potentially destroy the multiverse.
Evelyn is given verse-jumping technology to fight Jobu Tupaki’s verse-jumping minions, who begin converging in the IRS building. Evelyn learns of Waymond’s plans to divorce her and discovers other lives where she made different choices and flourished, such as by becoming a kung fu master and movie star instead of leaving China with Waymond, who becomes a successful businessman. Alpha Waymond comes to believe that Evelyn, as the greatest failure of all Evelyns of the multiverse, has the untapped potential to defeat Jobu Tupaki. Alpha Gong instructs Evelyn to kill Joy (what a killjoy!) to block Jobu Tupaki, but Evelyn refuses. She decides she must face Jobu Tupaki by gaining the same powers as her, so she verse-jumps repeatedly while battling Jobu Tupaki’s minions and Alpha Gong Gong’s soldiers. After the battle, Alpha Waymond is located and killed by Jobu Tupaki in the Alphaverse and Evelyn’s mind splinters. I shall not provide spoilers by giving the synopsis of Part 2: Everywhere and the fleeting Part 3, All at Once. The above synopsis is interrupted a 1,000 times by anything and everything. If you are still there, read on.
Two Daniels have written and directed the film, Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as (surprise, surprise) Daniels. Their first foray was called Swiss Army Man (2016), while this is their second film. It has been defined as science fiction action comedy, to which I can add social commentary on the Internal Revenue Service (Tax) espousing the cause of lesbian relationships satire on the superhero films about multi-verses. This is not a film that can be evaluated on the parameters of writing or direction, acting or cinematography, editing or music.
Instead, here is what you will find as the constituents of this 140-minute exercise:
Able, unable, do, undo, due, undue, real, unreal, like, unlike, fair, unfair, known, unknown, usual, unusual, lawful, unlawful, illusion, disillusion, common, uncommon, stable, unstable, annal, anal (I just had to use that word, for there is an extended scene with that part of the human anatomy as the centre of action, scenes that expose the showing of another objectionable appendage have been masked, but just enough to get by the censors), universe, traverse, poly-verse, multiverse, good, bad and worse…
Malaysian Michelle Yeoh, once a Bond girl and now 60, is cast as Evelyn Quan Wang, a dissatisfied and overwhelmed laundromat owner. She has a field day, and this film could be a tribute to her prowess.
Stephanie Hsu plays Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki (Evelyn comes up with some really names while trying to recall Jobu Tupaki), Evelyn’s daughter and a threat to the multiverse
Ke Huy Quan is Waymond Wang, Evelyn’s meek and goofy husband
James Hong enacts the role of Gong, Evelyn’s demanding father
Jamie Lee Curtis (was 62 when this film was shot), the only American actor in a major role, as Deirdre Beaubeirdre, an IRS inspector, an actress who takes the nonsense around her very seriously
Jenny Slate as Debbie the Dog Mom, a laundromat customer
Harry Shum Jr. as Chad, a teppanyaki chef working alongside Evelyn in an alternate universe
Tallie Medel as Becky Sregor, Joy’s girlfriend
Additionally, Sunita Mani and Aaron Lazar appear as actors in a musical film Evelyn watches. Yes, Sunita Mani. But why is she watching that particular movie? They don’t tell us.
Behind the scenes are three men, one of whom must have had either a ball or must have torn his hair in frustration. Guess who? Not cinematographer Larkin Seiple, not music composer Son Lux but yes, you got it right, editor Paul Rogers. Rogers has mainly worked in music videos and TV, and edited a film called The Death of Dick Long (2019) (I cannot do anything about names). He should be in for an award, for making the film come at you with Everything Everywhere All at Once, video and audio, giving you time enough only to exhale or inhale between shots. You won’t have time to do both.
Disruptive films have been made in the past with recurring regularity. Jean-Luc Goddard, who died this week, made his own disruptions using French. for over half a century, with almost dedicated loyalty to the cause. In India, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, and Mrinal Sen (occasionally) carved a new path during the 60s and 70s, with a clutch of films that had no commercial ingredients. Almost all these films were not entertaining or comedies, so, in a sense this one is a first. We did have a Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, but that would be a distant cousin of the film at hand. Here, the four-frame shots come at such a barrage that they fail to register, and consequently, the film’s comedy or entertainment quotient ends up lower than it could have.
One thing is sure: You are not likely to have seen anything like this before. If you are brave enough to venture into a Cineplex where the movie is playing, do not tax your brain too much, once the logos and handful of titles are over and the action begins; that will ruin the fun. A lot of the scenes are no brainers, in any case. But some audiences have seen something, somewhere, running into 140 minutes, that they liked, which is apparent by the box office success of the film. There is good, bad and worse in the film. Maybe they resonated with the good, and only the good. Good luck to them. Maybe it will have the same impact in India for its distributors, Impact Films.
(With Inputs from moviesfoundonline and filmfestivals)
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