“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is definitely one of the most wildly imaginative films of this year. While its story premise involved with multiple alternative universes is not exactly new to many of us due to several recent films such as “Doctor Strange in the Madness of the Multiverse” (2022), the movie is willing to push its story promise as much as possible for more awe and entertainment, and the result is often dazzling and enthralling while also firmly held together by the strong performance from its lead actress.
Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian Chinese actress who has been known well to us for a number of various films ranging from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) to “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), plays Evelyn Quan Wang, a plain Chinese American lady who has struggled to run her laundromat along with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) for many years. So busy with handling a recent big trouble with Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Evelyn cannot pay much attention to Waymond and other family members, and that certainly frustrates her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) a lot. Joy really wants to present her girlfriend formally in front of her family, but Evelyn prevents her from doing that because she believes that will not be approved at all by her aging father.
After another busy period at her laundromat is over, Evelyn goes to a local IRS building along with her husband and father for meeting an IRS inspector assigned to their auditing, but then something strange occurs not long before the meeting. Waymond suddenly acts oddly as if he were someone else, and then he gives Evelyn a weird instruction on what to do next during the meeting. As understandably bored and frustrated during the meeting, she casually follows that instruction, and, what do you know, quite an unbelievable thing happens to her within less than one second.
While Evelyn subsequently tries to grasp what is happening around her, the movie quickly establishes its story setting via a series of hurried explanations. Among millions of alternative universes, there is the one which is called ‘Alpha Universe’ because of its ground-breaking technological development for exploring those other alternative universes, and Waymond from the Alpha Universe, who can control Waymond in Evelyn’s universe from time to time, has been looking for the right version of Evelyn who may stop a huge threat to the entire multiverse once for all.
Because she is just an unremarkable woman without any particular set of skills, Evelyn is naturally flabbergasted about her ongoing circumstance, but the situation quickly becomes quite more serious and dangerous than she can ever imagine. Regardless of whether she is really the one to stop a certain figure behind the plot against the multiverse, she is now placed at the center of the multiverse, and that figure in question is already coming to confront Evelyn.
Now I should be a bit more discreet about describing the plot because most of fun stuffs in the film come from a bunch of unexpected moments of wild imagination and a wacky but inspired sense of humor. For example, when a certain black object is shown at one point early in the film, you may wonder whether this object actually comes from a sex shop, and you will be both surprised and amused by how this object is used later in the story.
Relentlessly and breathtakingly throwing lots of comedy and action into its increasingly loony narrative, the screenplay by directors/writers/co-producers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who previously drew my attention for their decidedly offbeat debut feature film “Swiss Army Man” (2016), also brings enough gravitas to its story and characters. As briskly shuffling between many different moods and elements as demanded, the movie sometimes becomes surprisingly introspective and touching while never becoming less funny, and I particularly enjoyed a part which is virtually a comic homage to the works of a certain famous Chinese filmmaker.
Above all, Yeoh is simply superb as dexterously gliding across many different versions of her character. While playing her character as straight as possible in front of many absurdities in the film, she also gives some sly humorous touches to be savored, and I do not think I will ever forget a part where she casually acts with rather outrageous prosthetic limbs. Besides being quite hilarious, she ably grounds this part with enough seriousness just like she did in the other parts of the film, and that is why the main reason why this part comes to show much more emotion than expected.
In case of several other main cast members in the film, they all have a ball in each own way as bringing extra spirit and personality into the movie. While Stephanie Hsu does more than holding her own spot well during her several key scenes with Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and James Hong are delightful in their colorful supporting performances, and Jenny Slate and Jamie Lee Curtis are also equally enjoyable in their respective supporting roles.
Overall, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is worthwhile to watch for many reasons including Yeoh’s commanding presence, and Kwan and Scheinert surely advance a lot from what they demonstrated in “Swiss Army Man”. Although I must point out that it is a bit too long besides occasionally feeling overstuffed, the movie is a lot more ambitious and imaginative than those soulless Hollywood blockbuster flicks, and that is more than enough for me at present.