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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for an optimistic pep-talk of a poem, and what better way to cheer up than to imagine all the possibilities of the future?)

Are you dwelling on your present and its causes in the past,
Believing that your current station cannot be surpassed
And thinking that what got you here’s so permanent and vast
That every future holds more of the same?

I tell you it’s a lie, for there are futures far and wide,
A you that is a lawyer with a master’s on the side,
An architect, an astronaut, or business never tried,
A plaque or medal waiting with your name.

Another you’s achieving in another universe,
And nothing but your mindset makes your version any worse.
A choice alone can breed a set of futures so diverse
That only you will see what you became.

MPA rating:  R

With positive word of mouth still spreading this movie’s praises, I will affirm that Everything Everywhere All at Once is the genre-defying, expectation-blowing multiversal fever dream that no one knew they wanted. Born from the unorthodox imaginations of music video directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as Daniels, whose last film Swiss Army Man had a description weird enough to turn me off from seeing it at all), this new film is a head-trip, a drug trip, and a reality-spanning hero’s journey/familial drama all wrapped up in a Chinese-American cultural milieu and the distinctive anything-goes visual style of a pair of auteurs. Basically, it’s the ultimate indie film.

Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, who owns a laundromat with her meek husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan of Goonies and Temple of Doom fame) and is being audited by a no-nonsense IRS inspector named Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). While attending a tax meeting, Evelyn is suddenly whisked into a multiverse-spanning struggle when an alternate version of Waymond informs her of a cosmic threat and the possibility of accessing the skills of other versions of Evelyn in different universes. She is understandably skeptical of such revelations but is soon forced to battle other multiverse-hoppers, not to mention the struggles of parenthood and the meaning of existence.

So much happens in Everything Everywhere All at Once that it’s hard to focus on what makes it so engaging, but I’ll say it’s probably the most wildly original film I’ve ever seen. With that originality, it must also be said that it embraces the surreal and outright bizarre with abandon, making it also a film whose sense of humor is not necessarily for all tastes. Quite a few scenes earned big laughs in the theater just from how unexpected and weird they were, like when a small dog on a leash is suddenly used in combat as a swinging weapon. This is a movie that alternates between relatable scenes of grappling with one’s disappointing life choices and Yeoh sparring with a pair of martial artists with trophies stuck up their butts (for a plot-sensible reason, strangely enough). It’s nuts, and yet, for the most part, it works.

Yeoh is at her best here, portraying Evelyn in a wide range of states from domestic despair to a glamorous lifestyle mirroring that of Yeoh herself. Evelyn is told that her potential “chosen one” status is because she is basically the worst version of herself, allowing all that unfulfilled potential to draw abilities from other universes instead. Between her regretful cynicism and burgeoning omnipotence, one sequence leads her on the path to nihilism and cruelty because “nothing matters” when you see how insignificant our lives are. A less satisfying film might have embraced that theme to its worst end, but that’s where Quan shines as the true heart of the film. In a triumphant return to acting, he provides a brilliant summation of kindness as the best alternative, which is basically what I consider my own worldview. He does much more than that, serving as the main deliverer of exposition and nailing a finely choreographed fight armed with only a fanny pack, but he grounds the film in a way that wouldn’t be possible without him.

I realize I’ve gone this far without even mentioning Stephanie Hsu as Evelyn’s estranged daughter or James Hong as her judgmental, wheelchair-bound father. I haven’t gotten to the reality-ending bagel or the zany reimagining of Pixar’s Ratatouille. The number of components to appreciate and discuss in this film can’t be crammed into this one review, but let’s just say there are plenty of them. I suppose the closest thing to which I can compare the wide breadth of this film is Cloud Atlas, but on crack. In both cases, neither film’s premise is really compatible with my own Christian worldview, never acknowledging any God but the “universe” and choosing to find meaning elsewhere, yet I can still admire the far-reaching search for that meaning, which touches on universal truth (like Waymond’s endorsement of kindness) and is inspiring in its own way.

Honestly, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a small miracle of a film, one that goes bat-crap crazy with its creativity yet never loses sight of the human story at its core, the one where everyone wants to be valued and loved. Even in its sillier alternative universes, it plays the emotions within them straight, so that they earn a chuckle for their absurdity while not detracting from the tear of the moment. I could have done without a few sexual elements of the weirdness that clinch the R rating, but there’s so much else to admire that I can overlook certain excesses.

In many ways, it feels like a game-changing milestone type of film, like Star Wars or The Matrix, one that others will no doubt try to imitate but never quite match. I bet Marvel thought the second Dr. Strange movie would monopolize the theme of an infinite multiverse, so who would have guessed that “Shang-Chi’s Aunt in the Multiverse of Madness” would come along to disrupt the conversation only a month before? From brilliant fight choreography to madcap editing and effects work, Everything Everywhere All at Once dares more than any film in recent memory and wins because of it.

Best line: (Waymond, to Evelyn) “You think because l’m kind that it means I’m naive, and maybe I am. It’s strategic and necessary. This is how I fight.”

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2022 S.G. Liput
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