(***1/2)-VITO CARLI

"...a truly original risk-taking cinematic gem..."

Riveting & Entertaining Trip Through the Multi-Verse

(051922) Everything Everywhere All at Once is an outrageous, unusual, innovative, frustrating ,overstuffed, messy, inconsistent, riveting, mesmerizing, surreal, and creative sci/fi action film that is at least as innovative and entertaining as the Matrix. If you loved that film and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind you will probably also adore this one.

Many major talents worked on the film. It was produced by the Russo brothers who worked on the TV shows Community (2009-2014) and Happy Endings (2011-2012). But they are perhaps best known for several Marvel Universe films including ones in the Avengers and Captain America series. The much less known and experienced directors/screenplay writers, David Kwan, and Daniel Scheilnert, are known mostly for doing the cool but little seen Indy film Swiss Army Man (2016)

Not coincidently this film explores the idea of the Multi-verse which also is becoming increasingly important in the Marvel Universe films. This film compares favorably with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness which was also quite good, although this effort is far superior. While many films have too few ideas this film is so overloaded with them that I had to leave the theatre every now in then to give my mind a break to fully process what was going on.

The film’s cast includes Michelle (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) Yeoh, Stephanie (The Marvelous Mrs. Masiel) Hsu, Ke Huy Quan (from Head of the Class), Jenny (Obvious Child) Slate, and Halloween's Jaimie Lee Curtis. Yeoh is exceptional in the lead demonstrating uncommon athleticism, dramatic intensity, comic timing, and grace. This may be one of her most memorable roles. Initially Evelyn Wang is a Chinese American laundry owner who is going through a tax audit, and the film initially seems like it belongs in the social realist genre. The evil seeming auditor has the unlikely named Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jaimie Lee Curtis), and yes, it is from the name game.

Evelyn has a very stressful life and always looks like she is about two seconds from a total breakdown. This is not surprising when you consider that her daughter is totally ungrateful and antagonistic, her husband is hinting that he wants a divorce, and she is caring for needy dad that has no appreciation for her.

One day a man who looks identical to her husband informs her that the universe is ending and an evil megalomaniac, Jabou Topaki is trying kill everyone and destroy all realities. He explains in a matter-of-fact way, “I am not your husband; I’m another version of him from another universe.” He also tells her that she is the only one that can stop Jabou, and she is a bit like a middle-aged female version of Neo, except in real life Yeoh is an expert dancer so the fights (which are pretty restrained) would have been highly convincing even without digital enhancement. Of course, like Neo and most mythic hero characters she initially rejects the call (she sees herself as a loser at first) which follows the heroic pattern that mythic scholar Joseph Campbell wrote about in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his other works (check out The Power of Myth.)

By consciously trying she can merge with her other selves and she sees that in most other realities she is a winner. The alternate universes all diverged from hers because she made a different choice at a crucial moment in each and often those choices turned out better for her. In one reality she is a millionaire and in another she is a successful actor in martial arts films (just like the real life Yeoh). In another she is a piñata who is about to burst, and in one she is a talking rock who oversees a funny scene that should be recognizable to fans of 2001: Space Odyssey. In my favorite reality, raccoons control chefs and make them make great meals  in a homage/parody of Ratatouille called Racacoonie. There is even a corridor scene that mocks the most famous sequence in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. The film offers endless delights for film aficionados and serious film students.

The oddest part of the film is when the villain, Tapoki, (who turns out to be quite familiar to Evelyn) puts all her knowledge, experiences, and emotions into a cosmic bagel. The bagel should get an award for best performance of the year by a pastry. Tapoki is a nihilist and has concluded from all the multi-verses she has also experienced that there is no meaning to anything. The film asks the philosophical question if everything is meaningless what is the point of going on? This is also a query that troubled the existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and the film suggests a surprisingly optimistic answer.

Everything Everywhere all at Once is often thoughtful, intelligent, exciting, and elevating, but it also feels overlong and (like
Inception) it is not at all for the casual viewer. But in this age of franchise films and remakes it is a delight to find a truly original risk-taking cinematic gem like this especially in the middle part of the year which tends to be an art film waste land.

Written & Directed by:    David Kwan and Daniel Scheilnert
Starring:    Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Jaimie Lee Curtis
Released:    3/11/22 (USA)
Length:    139 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for some violence, sexual material, and
Available On:    At press time the film is still playing at some
 Chicago area theatres. Available in English,
 Mandarin, and Cantonese.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

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Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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