Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Deftly Examines Modern Life

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Writing a review for a movie like Everything Everywhere All at Once can be daunting. How does one wrap their arms around such an opus of love, despair, and regret framed in a multiverse comic-book-esque story centered around how the tiny little pebbles of life can begin to cause stress fractures within a family? 

Daniels, a nom de plume of sorts for the duo of writers and directors Dan Kwan and Dan Scheinert, have made a deeply felt ode to the life of the every person, immigrants, the power of art, and just about everything else. Everything Everywhere attempts to examine life in the modern age and try to understand why it’s better to live than to give in to the Everything Bagel of despair. But, of course, that last bit makes more sense if you have seen the movie.

I would warn you of spoilers, but, Everything Everywhere is a movie in which spoiling one thing means spoiling nothing. The film is so frenetic and kinetic that knowing about one particular scene or plot means nothing. You must see it to understand it.

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is a woman with a lifetime of broken dreams. She owns a laundromat with her meek husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), the polar opposite of Evelyn’s abrasive and forthright manner. Unfortunately, their marriage is suffering from the weight of the business, having to take care of Evelyn’s father Gong Gong (James Hong), who disowned her when she left China to marry Waymond. 

If that wasn’t enough, Evelyn’s relationship with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), is splintering from Evelyn’s difficulty in accepting Joy being a lesbian. Joy wants to come out to her ailing grandfather. Evelyn attempts to stop her, both because of her issues or trying to spare her daughter from her father’s reaction, “he’s from a different generation.”

If all that wasn’t enough, Evelyn and Waymond are being audited by the IRS. One inspector, in particular, seems to be hard on their case, Deidre Beaubeirda (Jamie Lee Curtis). She is overworked, underpaid, and out of patience; she has little care for Evelyn’s problems.

The script is a thing of beauty simply because it has such faith in the audience. It never holds your hands and never pulls its punches. Understand that when I say it commits, it envisions a world in which humans evolve hotdog fingers and learn to use their feet, all while Evelyn is in a queer relationship with Diedre. Relationships are consummated by sticking the fingers in the other’s mouth until ketchup and mustard spurt out.

Daniels takes the concept of alternative dimensions and runs with it, with some of them being where Evelyn is just a rock or a pinata. The possibilities are teased with being endless, and they dare to show the weirdest ones. Yet, the weirdness is never watered down. Instead, it is amplified and brought into crystal clarity.

All of this involves an alternate Evelyn inventing a way to jump across multiverses, using neural links and her daughter, and pushing her so hard that she becomes an entity known as Jobu Tupaki. Jobu Tupaki wants to destroy all the multiverses, to end it all. But that’s just the plot device.

The real meat of Everything Everywhere is coming to terms with the world today. Evelyn, Waymond, Joy, and Gong Gong, are all struggling to stay afloat in the rapidly shifting times while also trying to deal with day to day work of being a functioning human in today’s society. The sci-fi elements enhance the mediation of life in the modern world; it’s exhausting.

Joy’s desire to end everything comes from her exhaustion of having to come out to her mother repeatedly, but it’s mixed with her just wanting to be with her mother and her attempts to bring her mother along. Evelyn is worn down by the pressures to have it all together while also dealing with accepting that her life has not turned out the way she hoped. Waymond is suffering the same as he struggles with a relationship that has lost not just its intimacy but any kind of affection.

Much has been written about Michelle Yeoh, a legend of Hong Kong action cinema, and all it is true. Yeoh shows vitality and range that Western movies often overlook as she plays the many different Evelyns with a dancer’s grace. Yeoh gives a performance that transcends a career of movie stardom.

Daniels finds a way to get the best out of every actor, from Yeoh to Hsu. Everything Everywhere is a love letter to Yeoh, Quan, Hong, and a slew of other Asian actors who, despite attaining legendary status, have never felt as if they had been given their due. It is remarkable how Daniels finds little ways to give each actor their moment but, more impressively, does so in a way that never overshadows the other. 

One scene has Hong’s Gong Gong wearing a mech-like suit of 90s office computer equipment, trying to stop Yeoh’s Evelyn from saving Jobu Tupaki. “I won’t let her go like you let me go. How could you let me go so easily?” Hong’s face as he sees the anger and hurt on Evelyn’s tear-stained face mixes regret and a pang of deep sadness. As if to say, it wasn’t as easy as you think.

Ultimately, much of what makes Everything Everywhere is how it isn’t afraid of the sadness that plagues so much of our lives. Instead, it embraces it, struggles with it, and in the end, accepts it. Life is hard, and while it doesn’t need to be as hard as it is, being mean and unkind only makes it insufferable.

Yes, this is a movie where the message is “choose love.” But because it’s willing to do the work of digging through such weighty themes as abandonment, forgiveness, loneliness, confusion, and the emotional tapestry that is our lives, it doesn’t come off as corny. For example, Waymond tells Evelyn that what she sees as a weakness is, in actuality, “kindness.”  

Quan’s Waymond is a tour de force. He shifts through varying Waymonds, all in body movement, much like Yeoh, doing a little to show a significant change. Waymond and Evelyn have grown so far apart that it takes their daughter being a threat to the entire multiverse to begin to realize why they ever loved each other. Considering at the beginning, Waymond was attempting to serve Evelyn with divorce papers; it’s a pretty big step.

Larkin Seiple’s camerawork and Paul Rogers’s editing are essential to how Everything Everywhere maintains its scatterbrained hyperactive momentum without ever feeling lost or confused. Daniels loves motion and uses it to highlight our everyday life’s stress and seemingly constant pressure. Seiple allows the movement to happen within the frame, keeping the camera static and letting Rogers’s editing keep the pace. 

Everything Everywhere changes styles and formats between universes. For example, one universe where Evelyn is a Kung-Fu master and a movie star is filmed in the style of a Wong Kar-Wai film, specifically In the Mood For Love. Quan has worked with Wong Kar-Wi, one of the greatest directors working today; mixed with a montage of Yeoh’s red carpet appearances, the scene adds an entirely new level of metatextual narrative.

Wong Kar-Wai captures yearning and sadness possibly better than anyone, and Daniels seems to be taking lessons. The scene between Yeoh and Quan as a famous movie star and a now rich Waymond is heartbreaking because it shows that even though they are more successful and not together, they do not seem that much happier. 

To say nothing of Evelyn and Hsu trying to repair a relationship. Hsu holds her own against Yeoh, and anyone who can pull off a scene in which they beat a cop to death with two dildos, is a talent to watch. Her Joy/Jobu Tupaki is a child who just wants her mother while also being an interdimensional demi-god capable of ending existence as we know it.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is the type of movie I live for. It is a silly, profound movie that commits to every absurdity and earnest emotion until it feels as if the screen might explode from everything being stuffed inside. The movie is a film festival all its own; it jumps from one theme to another with such confidence and glee that it’s impossible not to sit back in awe.

Images courtesy of A24

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