Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Manic and Outrageous Creativity of Everything Everywhere All At Once

A24's EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is an exhilarating and mind-bending assault on the senses. Writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, also collectively known as the Daniels, have fueled the metaphysical, martial arts film in an exhilarating bombardment of utter weirdness.

Just like the numerous "what if" scenarios you might have wondered about your own life, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE offers the various iterations of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh)'s existence. A harried, mousy Chinese immigrant laundromat owner, Evelyn has many adulting problems. One of them is trying to save her failing business from a persistent IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis and her glorious belly). She is also trying to plan a Chinese New Year party for the community, dealing with accepting her aimless daughter Joy's (Stephanie Hsu) sexuality, and trying to shield that revelation from her disapproving, estranged father (James Hong).

While in the midst of getting her tax matters resolved at the IRS, Evelyn's sweet, clueless hubby Waymond (Ke Huay Quan) suddenly transforms into heroic "Alpha" Waymond from another universe. Alternate universe Waymond, who can take down several adversaries with the help of a deadly fanny pack, convinces Evelyn that she is the only one who can save the multi-universes from an egoistical big bad called Joby Tupaki (also Stephanie Hsu).

Yes, it is as crazy as it sounds.

Asian icon Michelle Yeoh is the anchor of the film. Despite all the weirdness, including a world where humans have hotdogs for hands, Yeoh milks nuance and groundedness in each and every version of Evelyn. Whether Evelyn is a glamourous celebrity, skilled teppanyaki chef, basic laundromat owner and matriarch, or a sensitive woman with hotdog hands, Yeoh pulls off the different facets of Evelyn's character with her athleticism, grace and comedic timing. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE reminds the audience once again that the multi-talented Michelle Yeoh deserves to be front and centre of her own universe(s). A movie like this should have been her Hollywood moment way earlier than this.

The mainly Asian cast offers strong performances in their roles as well. Stephanie Hsu is fearless in her dual roles of the frustrated and depressed Joy, and the relentless villain Joby Tupaki. And well, the legendary James Hong does what he always does best. However, Red Dot Diva relished what she feels is the best Easter egg throughout the movie - Ke Huy Quan as Waymond.

Most Gen-Xers would remember Quan as Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom when he was a young boy. Quan left acting for many years after he was unable to get good roles as an Asian American in Hollywood. So, it is such a joy to watch him return in front of the camera kicking butt as action-packed "Alpha" Waymond, looking oh-so debonair in a suit as Romantic Waymond, or goofy father Prime Waymond, who is not afraid to show strength through kindness. With the Waymonds of the parallel universes, Red Dot Diva thinks that Quan has managed to break a few more stereotypes about Asian men by showing that a Asian masculinity does not mean the need to take on an Alpha role all the time.

Based on the trailer, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE may seem like a colourful, chaotic mess. In actual fact, behind all that verse-hopping and bizarre scenarios that include butt plugs, googley eyes and weapons in the form of sex toys and a giant bagel, the movie script is delightfully creative and ingenious. Like, isn't life messy anyway?

By giving homage to familiar visuals that include the sensual, smoky nightworld of Wong Kar-wai, the Shaw Brothers old-school kung fu fight scenes, or the cartoony warmth of Pixar's Ratatouille, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE offers not just one message, but several.

The film takes the audience on an emotional journey about possibilities, and urges us to take a hard look within ourselves concerning expectations versus reality. It levels up on Asian representation, and opens the window to Chinese culture and mentality without making it look exotic. It also highlights the sacrifice of immigrants all over the world, and the fractures caused by generational trauma. The story could have easily provided a cynical take on the human condition. Instead, it presents optimistic notions, like Kindness (with a capital K and with much aplomb) is the key to healing relationships. At its very core, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is about the conflict between a mother and daughter, and how their relationship is being transformed for the better.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is absolutely worth your trip to the movie theatre. It is best to watch it for yourself so that you can verse-jump through the absurd manic spectacle while appreciating the subtext. You will laugh, and you will cry.

And as for Red Dot Diva, she doesn't think she will ever see bagels the same way again.

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