Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
What if I told you a movie about endless universes where you leap from place to place by committing random acts like eating lip balm, showing objects up your rear, and professing your love to assailants would be one of 2022’s most sincere attempts at a family drama? It’s out there, but Everything Everywhere All At Once is ambitious like no other, trying to hold the reins on a ADD action movie that’s bursting with energy and ideas, but also aiming for a meaningful story about intergenerational family tension, marriage woes, and personal growth in face of it all.
Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn, a Chinese immigrant managing a laundromat and a fraying household. Her husband Waymond’s filing for divorce, and it’s obvious why: Evelyn, stressed over their finances and the life they’ve pieced together, has grown cold with seething resentment of Waymond for convincing her to move to the U.S. with him all those years ago. Worse yet, her demanding father Gong Gong (James Hong, 93-year old Hollywood “that guy”, whose credit count sits at 453, finally elevates to stardom) is in town, here to disparage her life’s work and look down on her decisions. This Cerberus of domestic hell is completed by Evelyn’s fast-deteriorating relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and wouldn’t you know it, the laundromat’s being audited by the IRS. You feel like there’s enough drama, but all of a sudden, Evelyn’s drawn into a cross-universal fight for survival.
It sounds intense, and it is, and Everything Everywhere All At Once has enough gags and slapstick to draw easy laughs for its runtime. Michelle Yeoh may be nearing 60, but her physical ability in mastering both action and comedy remains as strong as ever. Add to that some opportunity to emote and nail comedic timing, and you have a fully-fledged performance of both body and mind.
Alongside her is Ke Huy Quan as her husband Waymond, returning after retiring from acting almost 20 years ago. A stellar piece of casting, as Quan has somehow retained a youthful innocence and glee that blends right into Waymond as a life-loving kind soul who finds the zest of life in its small details. A gentle spirit worth fighting for.
Jamie Lee Curtis delivers the supporting role of a lifetime as a dusty and hellish IRS Auditor that eviscerates any preconceived notion you had about this notorious scream queen, and a weird subplot romance between her character and Evelyn is so-dumb-it’s-great and possibly worth admission alone.
I don’t think Everything Everywhere All At Once is a great movie, because its dramatic kernel is nothing you haven’t seen before and seen done better. It is a good movie though, fun and inventive throughout with a hurricane energy that feels plucked from an alternate universe.