There’s a lot of talent and imagination on display in EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. The story stars the extraordinary Michelle Yeoh in a complex part that she absolutely aces and the film’s production values are first-rate from the first frame to the last. It has verve, and energy to spare and showcases Chinese-American actors in, of all things, a unique fantasy/action vehicle. The film does throw everything in it – drama, comedy, broad farce, and pathos – and it works, even if it’s all a little long and, at times, lacking focus.
The fun and frenetic film from writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert grabs you immediately and starts with such verve right from the get-go, it’s hard to imagine where it will go. Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her family have schlepped to the IRS to go over the details of their laundromat business with a suspicious agent named Deirdre Beaubeirda (Jamie Lee Curtis having a hoot playing a surly frump). The Wang business receipts are stacked neatly on Deirdre’s desk but she smells fraudulent activities in those numbers. Indeed, the Wangs have tried to claim several items as business expenses, like a karaoke machine, but Deirdre isn’t buying it.
In addition to rubbing the US government the wrong way, Evelyn is at odds with her family as well. Her henpecked husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is tired of her bossiness and wants a divorce. Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is a lesbian, much to Evelyn’s Old World disapproval. And Evelyn’s father Gong Gong (veteran character actor James Hong) is a senile oddball who needs more care and attention than the Wang clan can give him.
That’s a lot of story threads right off the bat, and the screenplay cleverly shows how Evelyn feels torn in all directions by having her fracture into different versions of herself. That’s where the ‘everywhere all at once’ title comes in and soon enough, numerous Evelyns are battling various enemies on separate planes in the multiverse of her life.
In one version, Evelyn imagines herself as a sexy movie star (shot when Yeoh was at Cannes a few years ago) bantering wittily with a version of her hubby in the guise of a sly spy. Who knew that Ke Huy Quan, the kid who played Short Round in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, would grow up to be such an accomplished adult who could play both a nerdy milquetoast and a Bond-wannabe? In another take on her life, Evelyn imagines herself as a kung fu action star, vamping the same moves that Yeoh performed so exquisitely in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON 22 years ago.
Yeoh plays other versions of Evelyn too, everything from a criminal on the run to the lesbian lover of Deirdre’s. Not all of her guises make total sense here, becoming more flights of fancy of the filmmakers than the character. Still, most of it is involving, clever, and at times, even moving as Evelyn struggles to figure out who she’s supposed to be in this trying world.
Some of the cutting back and forth between all the different scenarios starts to jumble some of the narrative cohesion. The editing is often so hyper, breathless, and noisy that Evelyn’s struggles start to play out less as her addled mind and more like the whims of self-conscious filmmakers. Rubbery dildos and butt plugs make their way into the story and a lot of it starts to feel silly for the sake of silly.
The two directors should have spent more time developing Evelyn’s struggles with her daughter or adding dimension to Joy’s relationship with her lover Becky (Tallie Medel). But they keep throwing more and more outrageousness into the mix. Most of it works, but I’m not sure it needed blood-spurting gunplay or a heaven sequence involving a god-like bagel. The symbolism and allegories get laid on thick, conjuring up some unflattering comparisons to similarly-themed films that struggled to stay on track too, such as CLOUD ATLAS and A WRINKLE IN TIME.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is often great, never less than fun, and who can say no to a never-better Michelle Yeoh? The mix of all kinds of styles, genres, and techniques makes for one zany and colorful comedy, even though by the end of it, it’s perhaps a bit too exhausting. Still, how many films even try half of what has been tried here, most of it with zesty success? The cinema will always have more remakes, reboots, and sequels, but rarely will it showcase something so strange, so vivid, and so lively.