The one true pleasure of Everything Everywhere All at Once is not only watching the great Michelle Yeoh on the big screen; it’s that she’s The Star of the movie—which is where she’s belonged for 30 years. It’s just too bad that her Oscar-worthy performance by Ella is undercut by moments of degrading sleaze that leave a bad taste in your mouth.
This-fiction-slash-action-slash-comedy casts Yeoh as science Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged American who lives above her struggling Los Angeles laundromat as she deals with a multitude of business and financial pressures. To begin with, she’s being audited by a prickly IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis). Then there’s Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), her simp of a husband, who’s looking to get her attention from her with divorce papers. However, Evelyn’s primary concern for her is her aging and disapproving father for her (the great James Hong). Should he discover the truth about his lesbian granddaughter of him (a superb Stephanie Hsu), Evelyn is sure it will kill him.
Evelyn’s real problem is that she’s allowed life’s daily stresses and setbacks to harden and define her to a point where she no longer appreciates what she does have. Instead, she’s focused on the next task, the next hurdle to overcome. As a result, she’s pushed aside a husband who loves her and a daughter who needs her.
Between floors in the IRS elevator, Waymond suddenly changes personality. He’s no longer Evelyn’s Waymond. He’s a Waymond from another universe and here to inform her she’s the multiverse’s only hope for her. Everything everywhere is threatened by Jobu Tupaki, a woman with incredible powers. Only Evelyn can stop her.
those powers are this…
The multiverse is infinite and created every time one of us makes a choice. Think back on your own life. Think of the endless choices that put you where you are today. The schools and careers you chose, the woman you married, etc. Now imagine how your life might have zagged had you made different choices that led to different careers that led to different relationships, and on and on… And it’s not just big decisions. What if you’d chosen to try drugs and become an addict? What if you’d chosen not to hit the snooze button one morning, jumped out of bed, left for work on time, and gotten in a devastating car accident?
Each of your choices creates its own universe of What Might Have Been.
In each of those universes, you are someone different. You have a different life, a different career, a different family, and a different skill-set.
And it’s the skill set that matters.
Alternate Waymond gives Evelyn a Bluetooth-like device that allows her to import a skill from an alternate version of herself. The catch is that she has to do something bizarre, something she would never do normally, to trigger the transfer. For example, if she wants to import her de ella alternative version’s karate skills, she has to give herself five paper cuts, drink two liters of orange soda, or staple a piece of paper to her head de ella. Once she does that, boom, she can kick butt.
What makes the villainess, Jobu Tupaki, so dangerous is two things: The first is that she possesses every ability every version of her holds. The second is that she’s a surly teenager driven by nihilism.
It’s a pretty cool premise with all kinds of potential, and the central theme, rejecting nihilism and embracing life and family despite the hardships and stresses that come with such things, is a good one.
The best thing, by far, is Yeoh. I’ve been a fan going back to Police Story 3 (1992). For thirty years, she’s been one of our great untapped stars. Even after starring in the unqualified hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), even though she delivers the whole movie star package of beauty, charisma, poise, and talent, the left-wing racists in Hollywood never gave her the opportunities she deserved. Well, finally, she’s starring in a feature worthy of her dynamic presence and endless range of her, and she knocks it out of the park.
Unfortunately, Yeoh’s the best part of a movie that can’t stop tripping over itself. At 140 minutes, it’s 20 minutes too long—especially at the end. You keep expecting the story to wrap up only to have it veer off and spend too much time tying up a subplot you don’t care all that much about.
The worst is the unnecessary sleaze. At one point, Yeoh fights a woman wielding two giant rubber (and detailed) dildos. At another point, she fights two men with the equivalent of dildos shoved up their backsides. In one alternate universe, people have hot dog fingers and orgasm by squirting ketchup and mustard from them. I’ll never get over seeing the classy Yeoh with a mouthful of ketchup and mustard shot from the fingers of Jamie Lee Curtis. There’s more, but you get the point…
We’re in a disgusting pop culture phase where sexy is forbidden, but an actress degrading herself is seen as appropriate and edgy. Well, it’s neither. It’s just icky and ensures I’ll never sit through this one again.