Years ago I worked out how to travel between universes. I was pleased but not overly so, thinking, ‘well, this is a normal skill, like riding a bike or getting cold butter to spread.’ Turns out, no it’s not and if you talk about it too much, people will start thinking you’re a nutter and edging away from you. And then you have to move universes again.
How happy I was, then, that on Thursday, my bestie and I went to see Everything Everywhere All At Once. EEAAO stars the fabulous Michelle Yeoh as a beleaguered business owner drowning in a sea of receipts, familial dyspepsia and unfulfilled dreams.
I’m not going to put any spoilers in this review, I’m just going to waffle on about how it made me feel. I’d also advise you not to watch the trailer before seeing the film as it gives too much away. But I can say this: EEAAO starts off with a family struggling to keep their laundromat business going. Add to that an increasingly estranged daughter and a father who feels unvalued for who he is.
That’s the setup. What breaks that ordinariness is the multiverse poking its infinite heads into the story and, before long, the audience is being slapped with the most transreal, unhinged imagery that’s ever been seen outside of celebrity colonoscopies.
Unlike the tragically impoverished version of the multiverse that Marvel has slung our way, EEAAO’s vision is horrific, funny, sad, poignant, ridiculous and everything between. If the MCU multiverse is the infinity of integers (yawwwnnnn), EEAAO’s multiverse is the infinity of all real numbers. It’s wilder, it’s bigger, it’s cheerfully irrational. Thus, the ways in which it can twist the central characters of the story are exponentially more powerful than merely guesting actors from an earlier film or, failing that, inserting a pointless CGI puppet.
Speaking of CGI – Marvel et al should take another lesson from EEAAO here. All the VFX were apparently done by a core of five people who were self-taught. The directors pitched in too. The resultant CGI is supportive, appropriate and, above all, it doesn’t subsume the entire bloody story. The centre remains Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan giving exceptional performances that integrate perfectly with the fantastical elements while always retaining the human scale. Yeoh owns this film, she is incandescent and I could not tear my eyes away from her even if I wanted to. Her grace and power course through every moment, not just the fight scenes. Props also to Jamie Lee Curtis who has to cover an impossible range in her character(s) and does so with verve and total ferocity. I hope that other directors take note and she gets more work like this.
In the company of this cast, we travel to universes that, in lesser hands, could have reduced the pain of the film, there were certainly enough preposterous premises. But under the Daniels’ (Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert) sure direction, everything is made to serve the central interleaved stories. Personally, I would love to live in Wong Kar Wai verse if I could, who wouldn’t want that dreamy, super-saturated romance? But the Daniels use it in the most exquisitely painful way. Even now, it’s making me tear up to think of Ke Huy Quan’s speech and just how handsome he looks. But that’s the point, to poke at the audience and bring out our alternates, every what-if or if-only-I’d-been-brave-enough.
This human heart is what makes the audience care about all the crazy shit popping off onscreen. Without it… well, I think we’ve all seen enough CGI-snoozefests without me having to name and shame them. I cared about the family, I cared about their fates, their loves, their dreams, no matter what the universe. This is a film that made me cry about a falling rock. How good a storyteller do you have to be to achieve that? Well, you have to be the Daniels, apparently.
Every now and then, I’d look at my friend in the cinema and we’d both have tears coursing down our cheeks but be grinning like howler monkeys on a log flume. This film is a fucking ride, it is art, it is cinema, it is everything that 9/10 films that clog our multiplexes are not. It is not bland and therefore it will alienate as many as it thrills. You might see it and totally hate it, which is fine. But you can’t sit with us.
EEAAO is hugely, unfashionably emotional and it says things that are un-approved by committee or viewer survey. It is the greatest of joys to leave the cinema feeling so alive, so fizzing with questions and jokes and observations and puzzles.
Everything Everywhere All At Once deserves all the Oscars for everything. All at once.