The viewing event of the spring isn’t some streaming series on Hulu, Amazon, Disney or Netflix. It’s a an eye-popping motion picture event that demands to be seen in a cinema, preferably IMAX, to get the full overwhelming and immersive effect.
It doesn’t bear a Marvel or DC brand. The heroes don’t wear capes, Spandex, Spanx or bustierres. This cerebral science fiction keeps the effects mostly analog — stunt performers, wirework, frenetic action editing. No CGI superheroes and supervillains brawling in colorful, incoherent digital blurs.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the truth-in-advertising title, a trippy science-and-the-supernatural tale told in eye-candy strokes by the filmmakers who brought us “The Swiss Army Man.” A MOVIE movie with a genuine “beginning, middle and end” in the Age of open-ended, cliff-hangered “Content,” it’s something to see, I tell you what.
Kafkaesque, a “Matrix” adrift in the “Spiderverse,” a hint of “Brazil” at its most “Buckeroo Banzai,” with the whimsy of “Being John Malkovich” and the some of the pathos of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Everything” is a self-mocking/self-aware dive into the “multiverses.” That’s the scientific sidebar that has enraptured comic books writers and fans and science fiction on the page and on the screen for decades.
And if its a jumble at times, a deluge of images and exposition blending science and pseudoscience, at least it’ll shut up those Tweeters and Instabraggers tempted to slap “Living my best life” on whatever indulgences they share with the social mediascape.
Because as this movie asks — “Seriously, how can you know?”
“Crouching Tiger” star, Bond film veteran and “Crazy Rich Asian” alumna Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese expat joylessly overwhelmed by her joyless life, married to relentlessly upbeat but plainly unhappy Waymond (former “Goonies/Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” child star Ke Huy Quan).
She can’t help but notice he has a divorce decree in hand.
Even the “Joy” in her life, the daughter bearing that name, is miserable and a source of her mother’s misery. She is aimless and gay, something Mom can’t bear to explain to her father (legendary character player James Hong), who has just moved in with them.
Their Simi Valley (California) laundromat is cluttered, dumpy and broke. And this heartless IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) is on their case. No use playing the language barrier “confused” card, immigrants. Pay up, clean up the possible fraud on your return or they’ll seize the laundry.
As unfriendly and bitter as Evelyn is, she considers their regular customers “friends” if not family, and tries to get the woman she only knows (in Mandarin, with English subtitles) as “Big Nose” (Jenny Slate) and others to join them for a Chinese New Year party. No, that karaoke machine they bought isn’t now deductible.
Buried under all this disorganized paperwork, getting her head bitten off by the IRS harridan and her father’s “No English” meddling is a helluva time for her might-be-ex-soon spouse to say “I’m not your husband,” to tell her she’s not the only “Evelyn,” and inform her that, multiversally speaking, “You’re living your worst life.”
Oh, and there’s this multiverse villain hunting for her the way this “version” of her husband is. He hopes she’s a fighter and can fulfill that “our last hope” promise. The evil Jobu Tobacke looks like daughter Joy. That’s by design. Jobu wants Evelyn dispatched.
Evelyn must pop in green bluetooth buds (instead of “Matrix” shades), master “verse jumping,” with one particular version of her husband as her guide. And she must fight Jobu Tobacke and her minions with everything she’s got, and every skill she picks up from her verse-jumping into Evelyn as Japanese steakhouse chef, Evelyn as maid to a BDSM aficionado, Evelyn as a famous martial arts star, etc.
The action beats are epic brawls, all the more amazing when you consider that basically all of these take place within the low-rise/high-rise where the Simi Valley IRS offices are located.
The filmmakers’ self-awareness comes from Easter Eggs and overt homages to “2001,” “Ratatouille” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the like. Co-writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert give themselves the license to set their tale in a stereotypical “Chinese laundry” whose co-owner makes “Big Nose” cracks about a Jewish customer.
All this “chaos” can be confusing, even for those taking notes. But “chaos” is the very point of it all.
“This is CRAZY.” “You’re starting to GET it!”
And for all its attempts at delivering a heartfelt message, the finale is more something that unravels than resolves.
But “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is still something to see, something that demands to be seen in a cinema, mouth agape at the wonders playing out on the huge wall — the bigger the IMAX the better — in front of you.
Rating: R for some violence, sexual material and language
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate and James Hong.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. An A24 release.
Running time: 2:12