Move over Spider-Man — saving the universes is a job for a woman

Our current cinematic landscape is seeing the resurgence of the multiverse movie. From a duo of Spider-Man movies to the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, films that explore the infinite possibilities of universes beyond our own are coming back into the zeitgeist. Emerging as the best new take on this type of story is the show-stopping Everything Everywhere All at Once. Starring the legendary Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), it is an explosive and infinitely imaginative experience bursting with creativity. In every glorious moment it proves itself to be one of the best movies of the year so far, kicking down the door of possibility with an energetic force that morphs into a loving story about a family trying to find their way back to one another.

The film follows Yeoh as Evelyn, a flawed yet caring matriarch who holds the key to saving the many universes. The only problem is she doesn't know the power she has, and it is up to her kind husband, Waymond, played across multiple versions by an incredible Ke Huy Quan, to bring her up to speed about the whole multiverse thing. Complicating matters is that their laundromat business is facing an audit from Jamie Lee Curtis' menacing IRS agent Deirdre. Evelyn is also struggling to connect with her only daughter, Joy, brought to life with wit and wisdom by Stephanie Hsu. This emotional foundation provides a strong anchor for when the story jumps headfirst into the wondrous sense of whimsy found in its various worlds.

The film is the brainchild of the duo that is Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as Daniels), who previously collaborated on 2016's Swiss Army Man. The vibrant style found in that film are dialed up a thousand percent here, reaching a cinematic stratosphere through its profound observations and loving absurdity. There are a litany of well-choreographed action sequences, one involving the most violent use of a fanny pack in movie history, mixed with endless unexpected visual jokes.

Even as the experience is a boisterous blast in its loud and over-the-top moments, later quieter scenes about the emotional ties between the family are where the film really becomes something special. As Evelyn sees the other potential lives she could have lived and grapples with the regret in how hers turned out, Yeoh gives a multilayered master-class performance. That she is able to do this while having hot dogs for hands or when interacting with a raccoon controlling a man Ratatouille-style only makes it all the more brilliant. It ends up being a testament to both her strength as a performer and the sincerity with which the story embraces its deeper reflections that everything comes together in such magnificent fashion. It is unafraid of being cheesy and silly, leaning into the full potential of its marvelous vulgarity cut with a prevailing sweetness that resonates in a triumphant final act.

The pace at which this is all edited together is rapid-fire, meticulous and intentional. It's able to draw meaning from the unfolding of the various worlds crashing together, creating uproarious laughter at the same time that it finds a heartfelt passion about this family growing closer amid the chaos. One scene where characters become rocks with googly eyes encapsulates this perfectly, slowing down to reveal how the joy and sadness of life can be found in the most unlikely of places.

It is through this both expansive and intimate work that Daniels has created an outstanding work of art. Seeing all the gorgeous visuals and enveloping sound come together with such rich characters played by universally outstanding actors is an unmitigated joy to behold. ♦

Rated R
Directed by Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan

Backcountry Film Festival @ Garland Theater

Thu., Nov. 30, 6-9 p.m.
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