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Everything Everywhere All At Once

****
2022

‘…Everything Everywhere All At Once may rework familiar themes and characters, but you can’t say you’ve seen it all before…

Lets get meta; we need something new to spark a box-office drowning in ancient IP and tired franchises, with the UK box office hitting less than half of pre-pandemic levels, and Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinhart’s abstract, heart-warming, tax-collecting, martial-arts-showcasing smorgasbord of a movie may well be an early harbinger of some new zeitgeist new coming down the pike. And it’s been coming; Spiderman and Dr Strange never seem to be out of the multiverse, and even Nicolas Cage seems to have been sucked in. Everything Everywhere All At Once may rework familiar themes and characters, but you can’t say you’ve seen it all before…

Evelyn Wang (90’s action star Michelle Yeoh) works in a laundrette that she owns with her ‘silly’ husband Waymond (throwback 80’s star Ke Huy Quan from The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). An IRS audit adds to their stress level, and they’re called into to explain their receipts to the supercilious Deirdre Beaubeirdra (throwback 80’s star Jamie Lee Curtis, rampant in a wild comic role). Although they wheel in in some help in the form of grandpa Gong Gong (throwback 80’s star James Hong, channelling his role in Big Trouble in Little China) the Wangs would have been better served with assistance from Evelyn’s daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), but a schism caused by her estrangement from her mother bubbles up into something more threatening to the Wang’s reality…

An A24 production, this is quite an extraordinary film that will leave some audiences cold; it’s defiantly different, certainly original, and packs in so much to 139 minutes that it’s hard to know how to dissect it. A riff on Pixar’s Ratatouie but with a real-life raccoon played by Randy Newman? It’s that. A kung-fu epic that leans into Yeoh’s decades of popularity as a martial arts star? It’s that too. A sci-fi drama about collapsing multiverses? A glamorous parody of the romantic output of Wong Kar Wei in which a movie star finds potential love with a mysterious stranger at a film premiere? A scathing indictment of the policies and tactics of the IRS? A story of two rocks that can’t move? A horror film about having huge hot-dog sausage-fingers? It’s all of the above and far more. This is a frantic, Hellzappopin, anything goes film that’s something of a blast to experience; re-watching potential is off-the-scale, since it’s well nigh impossible to figure out everything on the first viewing. There are mistakes and lapses, however; the thoughtless labelling of Jenny Slate’s Jewish character as ‘Big Nose’ is regrettable and apparently will be cut for all home-entertainment releases.

But there is a take-away; despite the complexity of the various multiverse storylines, and the speed that the film flings images and ideas at the audience, the overall story makes land in a way that’s cheerful, thoughtful and philosophically sound. Everything Everywhere All At Once might be limited by our perceptions of what it’s really about, but it does a great job of educating those who think that the multiverse is just portals, fireballs and special effects. There’s an upbeat human story here, and Yeoh is more than up to the challenge of making a Chinese-American protagonist fly in 2022. All concerned get an A for effort and out-of-the-box thinking, even if the first viewing of the result leaves you feeling that you’ve just been through a rigorous spin-cycle of the Wangs’ washing machines.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is out today May 13th 2022 in the UK, amd in the US already. Thanks to A24 for big-screen access to this title.

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  1. I’m in the cold category. Frozen more like. Bored out of my tiny…Did a child write this? An alternative to super-heroes that is just another super-hero and a plot that’s even harder to understand than any super-hero.

  2. It’s abbreviation EEAAO seems onomatopoeic, the noise I made when confronted by this hyper-manic spectacle. But I was really impressed by the way that, despite the endless assault of ideas and images, it managed to keep an emotional core. And so remained engaging rather than just overwhelming. I’m not sure whether it’ll bear rewatches, though I expect there’s a lot of details to notice on repeat viewings – the cupboard full of fluffy-tailed butt-plugs prefiguring a later events, for example. I’m not sure it quite merited the crazed hype, but it was original and a lot of fun.

    • Yup, the hype was getting a bit much by the time I saw this, and it’s certainly not perfect. At times I was exhausted, and did find it frustrating that pretty much all roads to kung fu. And our showdown in the IRS building must go on for a good two hours plus; at times, the narrative seems shapeless. But as you say, there was fun to be had connecting it all up, and the last few scenes had pathos that was somehow earned via all the chaos. Chaotic, but creative cinema.

  3. I think maybe these ‘throw it all in to the blender’ movies recently are perhaps the product of the internet.
    Filmmakers can ‘take’ creative ideas that have been harvested from online social media, or from general internet activity of internet users (via data analysis firms), and then curate those ideas into their new movie.
    As a result you get a pickle pot of mismatched ideas, dubiously related.
    It can dazzle from the sheer quantity of ideas that hit you, but for me these films fail because their ideas don’t thematically hold together, there is no true sense of inter connectivity or deep relevance between scenes, characters and ideas, in the way the great filmmakers of the past have shown us.
    And the dispersed nature of how these ideas were sourced and then forcibly strung together is the problem.
    A fair comment?

    • A fair comment indeed. I think we’re at the earliest stages of imagining a cinematic multiverse. And I do think that films like Everything Everywhere get amazing reviews, better than the film itself deserves, possibly because people want it to be something good. I’d agree that these multiverse films have been patchy to say the least, and as you say, celebrate quantity rather than quality of ideas. But it’s certainly done primo real estate to mine in terms of finding fresh ideas, even if the genre hasn’t provided a classic yet…

    • Do you mean conceptually crowdsourcing the plots of films? or more an attempt to replicate in film the manic/kinetic/layered energy of online discourse (this comments section is far from manic – most of the time – but it does represent multiple conversations happens all at once, both individual and symbiotic)? It’s an interesting thought either way, one I’ll be, er, thinking about.

      • I’m totally up for a film based on this comments section. A horror/conspiracy theory/kung fu/cringe comedy/lo-do sci-fi masterpiece! Everybody, Everywhere, Commenting At Once!

        • There are pre-Internet precedents, of course (I detected an Olson and Johnson reference in your review). On the other side of the digital fence, there’s “Snakes on a Plane.” I think it’s about time to revive the genre(s).

          • Wow! You have won catch of the week! I write this stuff, but don’t forget coextensive everyone or anyone to get it. Cinema doesn’t have to be for the ages, it can be for the now. I’d be keen to see more shambolic films if they have some method in their madness. (Hamlet reference)

            • I was thinking of ‘Surveillance Capitalism’, the book by Shoshana Zuboff (Harvard University). She’s written insightfully on the non-consensual extraction of behavioural data from our daily lives, and this knowledge is then resold onwards. So I think writing commercial movie scripts is an example, and it turns up in movies as ‘here’s a bit of this we took from here, and now here’s a bit of that we took from there’.
              And I’m not keen on movies that ‘sample’ other movies. Spielberg did it with Ready Player One but I think that was a filmmaker at the end of his career acknowledging the influences that made him who he became – it was personal.
              I mean, sampling Wong Kar Wai?! When you read about how those Wong films were made, they were so improvised and crafted and unique. Isn’t overtly copying those films missing the point of them, like a band covering Bohemian Rhapsody?

              • I can see how these kind of analytics are already forming what we watch; title recognition seems to be a big factor in whethere to ressurect IP. But it’s also quite surreal to riff on Pizar and Wong Kar Wei’s 2046/In the Mood for Love and kung fu; somehow by reaching out to diverse sources, something that feels genuine and personal is a possible result. Ready Player One’s references did feel like window-dressing, and other icons could have been interchanged with the ones they used…will look out for Zuboff, thanks!

    • Waymond is described as a ‘silly’ man by his prospective in-laws; the whole film is quite silly, by design. It’s well worth a look if you’re ready for something new…

      • But what if I don’t want anything new in my life? What if I want my movies to be like my breakfasts? You know, bangers and oatcakes?

        • You have bangers and oatcakes for breakfast? How does that get you to your five a day?

          UK cinemas doing 40 percent of business the did before the pandemic, we need something new to spark interest….

          Bob’s Burgers press show announced, so that’s heading your way soon…

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