Cinematic multiverses seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. No sooner has Dr Strange shuffled his way through one, then this arrives. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the sophomore effort from the directorial partnership known as ‘The Daniels.’ (I didn’t catch their debut, Swiss Army Man, but I know it has its followers.) EEAAO is currently receiving enthusiastic buzz and has already been garlanded with glowing reviews, but – though it undoubtedly has moments of genuine brilliance – it often feels as though the directors aren’t as in control of their concept as they ought to be.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her timid husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), run a chaotic laundromat in Simi Valley, California. Evelyn isn’t happy with her life and she’s constantly at odds with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who is gay, something that Evelyn tries to hide from her father, Gong Gong (James Wang). The family are summoned to the IRS office where they are subjected to an interrogation by ruthless tax inspector, Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Evelyn has tried to claim a karaoke machine as a legitimate business expense and Deirdre isn’t at all happy.
It’s round about this point that Waymond reveals that he’s not actually who he seems, but a Waymond from an entirely different reality. He’s come here to try to prevent Evelyn from being destroyed by an evil entity who looks very like her own daughter.
It would be pointless to try to give any more plot details because from hereon in – as the title might suggest – what ensues is a breathless free-for-all, as Evelyn stumbles helplessly in and out of her various incarnations, acquiring skills along the way. One minute she’s a skilled martial artist, the next a trained chef, then she’s an opera singer and, in what must be the film’s most bizarre sequence, a lesbian with hot-dog sausages for fingers. Along the way, there are references to other movies – 2001: A Space Odyssey, In the Mood for Love and er… Ratatouille, to name but three.
But it’s an exasperating journey. One moment, I’m genuinely impressed by what I’m watching, the next I’m just… confused. Where are we? What’s happening?
Yeoh is splendid in what must be the most eccentric role-choice of her career, while Huy Quan (who has barely graced cinema screens for more than four decades) makes a decent fist of Waymond. It’s interesting to note that The Daniels did first consider Jackie Chan for this role (a kung-fu punch-up where Waymond uses a bumbag as a set of improvised nunchuks could have stepped right out of one of Chan’s films). There are some comedy sequences in the mix too, and the crowd at the screening I attend are laughing throughout.
But all too often if feels as though The Daniels are deliberately going for cheap shots. Another fight scene involving butt plugs and oversized dildos just feels exploitative – and do we really need to see Evelyn eating her father’s snot? Furthermore, with a running time of two hours and nineteen minutes, EEAAO definitely overstays it’s welcome.
This then, is the curate’s egg multiverse – good in parts, but occasionally indigestible.