Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Preamble

If there’s ever been a bad indication for the state of cinema at the moment, then it’s been the piecemeal release for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Despite coming out last week, the film has been harder to see than winning the lottery. Thankfully, the film has been give a wider release with it finally landing on the shores of Basingstoke cinemas. Was it worth the wait? Well, you can find out after the jump. In the meantime, what did you think of Everything Everywhere All at Once? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

What makes Multiverse stories so indelible? On paper, they can be a manufactured way of generating nostalgia by reminding you of a character’s prominence or a slanted way of looking at a central figure that makes you appreciate their original incarnation. Between Spider-Man: No Way Home and the recent Multiverse of Madness, this approach has been the standard-bearer of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has used the notion so far. By comparison, Everything Everywhere All at Once resets the canvas for Multiverse stories by showing how subversive, metatextual, emotional and bizarre the concept can truly be.

Split into three parts that reveal and are about each part of the title, Everything Everywhere All at Once tells the story of Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh). She’s a down on her luck businesswoman who runs a launderette, takes care of her ageing father, Gong, (James Hong) has a hard time coming to terms with her daughter’s lesbian relationship and ignores her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). These aspects are complicated when she’s confronted by an alternative version of Waymond, who claims she’s the key to saving the multiverse from an entity known as Jobu Tupak (Stephanie Hsu).

To its credit, Everything Everywhere All At Once is made in the same spirit as cult movies such as Phantom of the Paradise and Spider Baby. These are films that are appealing in their moment to moment weirdness. They also seemingly feel loosely held together in a manner that’s fun and anarchic. But much like those films, Once has a black sense of humour that’s absurdist and gonzo. In Paradise, Brian De Palma riffed on classic cinematic sequences from Touch of Evil to Psycho. Similarly, Once uses its Multiverse premise to playfully poke at scenes that have etched their way into our collective consciousness. The most memorable is a recreation of the famous slaughter in the “Dawn of Man” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the attacking apes have giant hot dog fingers.

At the same time, Once’s slyness also gives way to a fascinating metatextual quality that plays on our perception of some of the actors in the film. Between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and her various action roles, Michelle Yeoh has been the portrait of serene and controlled. In Once, her performance stands out because she’s overwhelmed and disenchanted, which makes the parts where she’s engaging in action all the more satisfying. This is due to the film giving us a credible context for her transformation from an unremarkable laundrette owner to a fierce and capable fighter. Likewise, it was also fun to see Jamie Lee Curtis (who has been the atypical final girl in horror cinema) transform into a Michael Myers esque figure whose unrelenting in her search for Evelyn (in the first half of the picture).

In a movie with such a chaotic verve, the filmmaking stands out for how subtle it is. Some of the early scenes play to this idea via simple panning shots and slow camera moves that provide perspective and depth. The film’s real technical feat comes from the editing. At once, it gives some scenes an indelible visual identity, such as one moment where Evelyn’s behaviour in one world affects all her counterparts in different dimensions akin to seeing multiple panels in a comic book. The editing is also commendable for how it keeps the emotional truth of its simple character moments intact amid the general chaos of the premise.

The standout sequence is a moment where Waymond gets a sense of the heartbreak that Evelyn causes him in other dimensions, and he still declares that he wants a mundane life that’s comprised of taxes and laundry with her. This scene is juxtaposed with various Evelyns across the multiverse, giving into Jobu Tupak’s nihilistic world view.

It’s moments like this that prove to be Once’s secret weapon. With themes that touch on the generational disconnect between parents and their children, depression and the meaning of life; Everything Everywhere All at Once’s greatest strength is the close alignment between the philosophical and personal. But rather than feel like mawkish sentiments, the debates have weight because they’re filtered through a potent mother and daughter relationship; whereby the daughter’s bleak point of view comes from her dismissive mother. This is the type of storytelling that’s always appealed to me where big concepts are given emotional weight and truth due to how they are grounded in the mundane and every day.

In this regard, I was reminded of the first time I saw The Matrix and how that film blew my mind with its juggling of philosophy, religion as well as eastern and western visual sensibilities. But in the case of Once, it effortlessly has the confidence of a sly cult movie and the emotional truth of a tear-inducing drama. Quite simply, Everything Everywhere All at Once made me hopeful for the continued existence of the cinema as a meaningful art form.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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