Film – Everything Everywhere All At Once
This critically-acclaimed film dominated this year’s Academy Awards winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay out of 11 nominations. It has won a host of other awards making it one of, if not the most, awarded film of all time. For a sci-fi fantasy kung fu film that is crazy, but the crazy doesn’t end there.
Co-directed by the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), first thing to say is … this film is bonkers with not just a capital B but an all caps BONKERS.
There’s a character named Deirdre Beaubeirdre (ask a 10 year old) for starters and an everything-topped bagel singularity (the properties of the singularity cannot be described without an established theory of quantum gravity, but it’s one shaped like a bagel, ok? Ok). There are conversations between rocks. With subtitles.
Second, this film is weirdly also a salve for your existential crisis with its parallel universe, Sliding Doors-on-cocaine story device which ultimately ends up a moving tale of family, acceptance and gratitude – just with some martial arts, butt plugs and a Spanx-free Jamie Lee Curtis thrown in.
“The bagel will show you the true nature of things” (Jobu Tupaki)
Curtis is hilarious and terrifying, and well-deserving of her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Ke Huy Quan (the little kid from ‘80’s hits Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies but now a man, obviously) was also fantastic but the lead Michelle Yeoh (Police Story 3: Supercop, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of A Geisha, Crazy Rich Asians) has received the most accolades for her performance as Evelyn, a dissatisfied and anxious laundromat owner being audited by the IRS studiously ignoring her daughter’s worsening depression and her husband’s desire to reconnect. To go into plot details would spoil things; it is enough to say Evelyn goes on an adventure to save the multiverse and her daughter.
The lead character was originally written for the great Jackie Chan. The film’s action sequences are awesome, not least because they all involve 60 year old Yeoh wielding serious kung fu chops. But this is familiar ground for Yeoh who got her cinematic break in Hong Kong martial arts films, often with Chan himself. If you think that’s cool, this film is a gift to film/pop culture boffins with many Easter eggs* to pick up on.
Yeoh is great in this film (and every other she has been in) and her Academy Award acceptance speech highlighting the plight of female actors over 30 and Asian actors generally was very inspiring – but the Best Actress award and the accolades seemed, upon my first watching the film, … a bit over the top. Yes, the film was a thought-provoking outing but also very silly in an “I just had a dream where our fingers were hot dogs” kind of way. There is a lot to distract the viewer from the performances of the cast. Like trying to work out what is going on.
Because the pace is frantic. If you found Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge overwhelming this might not be your thing; just swap out the dancing and singing for kung fu and you get the idea. But there is much, much more to absorb here compared to the glitzy schmultz of MR – and that is a frustration with the film. It is very clever, but you will have to watch it (at least) twice to pick up all the references. If you are not inclined to watch it twice (I initially was not but did so in order to write this review), much of the “hey that’s …” might pass you by or, if there is a quick flash of recognition, you do not have time to process it – which is unsatisfying – but also leaves you with a sense you are not hip enough to immediately get it and I do not need that kind of disrespect from a film. I know I’m not cool, thanks.
That said, the second viewing was immensely more enjoyable. By a long way. The plot sorted, I had brain space to literally sit back and enjoy the show. And apart from an awkward scene transitioning the plot from reality to fantasy where Evelyn is still worried about her taxes while another version of her husband tells her she needs to save all the universes, Yeoh is fantastic.
Before I saw the film, I was upset to learn that fabulous actress and comedian Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Nora from Queens) had to turn down the role of Evelyn’s daughter Joy but Stephanie Hsu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel) is brilliant as a disaffected young person hellbent on destroying herself and the multiverse as the dreaded Jobu Tupacki.
There is a wonderful score (it was nominated for Best Score), including a song by David Byrne (Talking Heads) and the costume design is superb (another nomination) if you are into that (I am, and the costumes are fabulous, especially Ms Beaubeidre’s comfortable pants and Jobu Tupaki’s unique haute couture).
This movie is a colourful reminder to be kind to ourselves and others when it all gets too much. But it is so much more. A riff on various video games and children’s books. A reflection on our internet lives. An essay on nihilism. PhD theses will be written.
“Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense” (Joy)
The story arc is very tender (who isn’t moved by the thought of a parent losing a child either through death or disconnection?) in contrast to the action. It made me want to hug my children and organise a long lunch with my mates so I could tell them I loved them. To be sure, there has been no other film like it. I have vacillated between thinking it is a seriously teary ground-breaking philosophical piece of film art, or an audacious joke film by two hipsters who someone gave a lot of money to (although they created most of the visual effects at home during covid with very limited funds because … young people). I actually think it is both. Enjoy.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is available on various streaming services.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxN1T1uxQ2g (Official trailer)
* “Easter eggs” are hard to spot cultural references, for those of us over 50.