Everything Everywhere All at Once movie review - prepare to have your heart (and mind) broken

·3-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

Are you multi-a-verse (a term I’ve just invented to describe people who are sick of narratives which feature parallel worlds)? I feel your pain. Still, don’t prejudge this US sleeper hit, a fizzy and churning “verse-jumping” adventure that’s easily one of the best comedies of the year.

Even if you’ve just seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, can recite every line from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, and count Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five as your bible, you won’t be able to second-guess the emotional trajectory of laundrette-owner Evelyn Quan Wang.

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is possibly not living her best life. Based in a grotty nook of Southern California, she has a timid husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), a scary dad, Gong Gong (James Hong), and a daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who’s prone to comfort eating. Evelyn is exasperated by all of the above, yet thinks her biggest problem is an IRS audit with uber-crotchety Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) thinks her IRS audit is her biggest problem. It isn’t (handout)
Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) thinks her IRS audit is her biggest problem. It isn’t (handout)

Tax Schmax. Over the next 24 hours, Evelyn is recruited by intergalactic agents who say she must destroy a nihilistic, dildo-waving maniac, Jobu Tupaki. The killer twist: Tupaki is actually a version of Joy, who, it turns out, is borderline suicidal. Once Evelyn gets the hang of “verse-jumping”, she acquires an astonishing range of skills. But will she use these new-found powers against her own, desperately vulnerable child?

The fight scenes are nifty. The mood is zany. Space-travellers impale their butts on pointy objects! Evelyn experiences life as a lesbian with hot-dog-fingers!

Yet we never lose sight of what’s at stake for our wounded/wounding heroine. Film-makers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) say they feel the need to talk about “body-shame-y” things. Early on in the movie, Evelyn gazes at her daughter thoughtfully, then says, “You ARE fat!”

Evelyn quickly gets the hang of ’verse-jumping (AP)
Evelyn quickly gets the hang of ’verse-jumping (AP)

It’s tempting, but wrong, to see EEAAO as a bolt from the blue. Yes, it’s a riposte to TV shows, like Gilmore Girls, where carping Asian parents are kept on the sidelines. But the Daniels’ film is also part of a venerable tradition, echoing brilliant novels by Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan that (back in the 70s and 80s) put the spotlight on complex, aspirational Asian mums.

The same tradition, of course, spawned Pixar hit Turning Red, a project that gave the splendiferous Sandra Oh yet another chance to shine. Sandra and Michelle (is it just me or would the world be infinitely improved if these two formed a band called Oh ‘n’ Yeoh?) are spearheading a revolution. One that’s relevant to all brilliant actors who feel trapped in, or headed for, the knacker’s yard.

Kelly McGillis, recently asked why she wasn’t appearing in Top Gun 2, said, “I’m old and I’m fat and... that is not what that whole scene is about.” The Daniels are part of a new breed. In their alternative scene, it’s hot to be a not. Hand over your brains and hearts; they’re about to be broken.

In cinemas from May 13

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