“EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE”

Published On April 1, 2022 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE”
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu
Written by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Produced by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wong

By Matt Neufeld

Along with several hundred other tired, trite, unoriginal and over-used cliches and gimmicks, the use of the multi-universe trope in popular culture in general, but especially in movies, needs to be immediately retired for a good, long time.

Actually, the use of the multi-universe cliche, which is simply having, in a story, several universes somehow bizarrely–even for science fiction, fantasy, horror and the supernatural– co-existing at the same time, was already tired, cliched and over-used at least fifty years ago. But, depressingly, oddly–and even moronically, yes, moronically–this gimmick has been brought back repeatedly in movies, television shows, books and short stories ad nauseum during the last twenty-five years or so to the point where the use of a multi-universe story convention has just become moronic, ridiculous, laughable–and just plain lazy in terms of writing, directing and storytelling.

All of this in on full display–quite unfortunately–in the muddled, confusing, depressing, dreary, cluttered, cliched and tired exercise in exploring, yet again, the multi-universe cliche in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a film in which it’s clear that the filmmakers were desperately trying to do something inventive with the multi-universe idea, but they just could not succeed.

The result is one of those seemingly-high-concept, seemingly-experimental, seemingly-avant-garde movies that tries so hard to be different, the movie gets buried and smothered in an avalanche of its own ambitions. This movie just ends up being diluted, delusional, downer and disjointed. The entire idea of several alternate universes co-existing, with generally the same people, the same places, the same looks, the same everything, with just a slight bit of difference–enough of a difference to allow alternate stories to co-exist on top of, around, and under each other–falls apart in “Everything” precisely because of this very foundation premise and plot mechanism.

Additionally, the problems with “Everything” are multi themselves: The direction and writing are generally confusing, hyper-edited, hyper-paced, badly paced and too-often presented without clear-cut explanations, reasoning, background or thoughtfulness. Yes, indeed, the story does attempt this–there are varying, layered attempts at exposition, explanation, backstory, plots and sub-plots, but it’s just not presented clearly and reasonably. The direction, timing, pacing, cuts and even blocking and marking are continually so frenetic, hyper and unclear, those attempts at basic storytelling just get buried. Additionally, the overall production design is murky, cloudy, dark and depressingly gloomily lit and cheaply constructed. The filmmakers were trying for that low-budget, grainy, indie-hip, pseudo-artsy grindhouse vibe–but that doesn’t work, either. The movie just looks cheap, grungy and non-indie-hip, non-funky-grindhouse and amateurish.

Science-fiction, fantasy, horror and the supernatural–“Everything” contains either apparent or slight elements of all of these genres–of course requires huge amounts of willing suspensions of disbelief. Of course. But even with the most outrageous stories, films, television shows, books and movies, there still needs to be clear, concise, understandable and story- and moment- and plot-appropriate reasoning for even the most bizarro plot points. Without that reasoning, without some form, function and sense of grounding and understandable storytelling, that outrageous idea will remain outrageous in the worst way–confusing, cluttered, unclear and even ridiculous.

Alas, that’s exactly what happens with “Everything.” Yes, to utilize the obvious joke based on the movie’s title, the movie’s story, plot, pacing, relatability, reliability and credibility–and thus the entire movie’s everything in and of itself–end up just everywhere, all over the place, or multi-places, all at once. The movie, despite its best intentions, ends up being incoherent.

“Everything” needed more refined, experienced–and mature–and in-control science-fiction writers, directors and producers to rein in the out-of-control story, script and direction. Imagine if a steadier, more comedic-oriented and more experienced director such as John Landis, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Robert Zemeckis, Adam McKay or Ruben Fleischer we’re directing this movie–the results most likely would have been much more refined, thought-out and funny.

The multi-layered, multi-meandering story in “Everything” purports to tell the tale of mild-mannered, beleaguered and troubled urban laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, whose entire life seems to be unravelling, well, all at once. Her laundromat is failing and falling apart; her taxes and finances are a mess–to the point where she could lose the laundromat entirely to foreclosure and closure; her husband is serving her divorce papers; she is oddly estranged from her daughter; and her father is sadly falling into dementia and senility. This is what viewers are faced with as the foundation of this movie–and the multi-universe of filmic problems start there: None of this is funny, or welcome, in this respective sci-fi context. It’s just dreary, downer and depressing.

And, as so many recent movies have proved to their tragic detriment, you just simply cannot have a successful, worthwhile and watchable movie based on a core story that does nothing but turn off the viewer’s concerns, cares and interests; has a story that is continually depressing; and that has clearly unlikable, revolting, irritating and annoying main and supporting characters. Even if you’re presenting a tragic drama, there’s got to at least be a hint, a touch, a figment, an iota of human interest, caring and positivity in your main characters and in your main storylines. Again, even with the most tragic drama. But, again, too many modern-day films are so dreary, so gloomy, so doomy, there’s very little for viewers to relate to and even care about.

And this is how “Everything” starts–with a core plot, story and set of main characters that’s just depressing. Now, if the movie progressed and things turned around satisfactorily and our characters found a satisfactory level of progress, development, progression, retribution and advancement, that would help to redeem the movie. Yes, again, there is indeed some of this–Evelyn does evolve, learn and progress, and she does have some moving, emotional character development–but the key word here is satisfactory. That character development, while respectable and welcome, gets swallowed up, engulfed and drowned out by all of the movie’s other shortcomings, thus rendering that development ultimately unsatisfactory, and less powerful and effective as it could have been.

“Everything” just needed more maturity, more restraint, more control and more focus.

Evelyn, played beautifully and wonderfully by the beautiful and wonderful Michelle Yeoh, soon finds herself led through numerous alternating, switching and changing multiple universes, apparently controlled and overseen by some type of mystical, paranormal, supernatural force and being. She is supposedly supposed to learn some type of lesson, or lessons, about something–but, well, trying to coherently and sensibly explain a basically incoherent and nonsensical story is futile. Basically, Evelyn travels through these multiple universes and encounters all manners of strange, unexplainable alternate people, things, brings and situations as a means of trying to figure out, straighten out and clean up various aspects of life. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s something else. It’s just not clear what it’s really all about.

Accompanying Evelyn on her multiple journeys is her equally-beleagured and depressing husband Waymond Wang, played by Ke Huy Quan–yes, the same Ke Huy Quan from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies;” Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong Wang, played by the great veteran actor James Hong; Evelyn’s depressing daughter Joy Wang, played by Stephanie Hsu; and Deirdre Beaubeirdra, an IRS agent played by the always-reliable Jamie Lee Curtis.

That said, here’s something fascinating about “Everything:” These five lead actors are excellent in the film. They all shine, walking and moving and acting quite tall and proud, despite the continually-increasing piles of rubble and confusion building around them as the movie plods and sludges forward. The above-average performances by Yeoh, Quan, Hong, Hsu and Curtis provides one of those instant lessons in acting expertise: Just how a skilled actor can somehow rise above the poor quality of the script, story, direction and movie surrounding them. It’s nothing new, of course, to see actors overpower their material, but that’s exactly what happens with “Everything,” and this aspect of the film is indeed great to watch.

So kudos to Yeoh, Quan, Hong, Hsu and Curtis for delivering above-average performances in a below-average movie.

In this area in particular stands the great Michelle Yeoh. Although she’s had a great career in modeling, television and film, and she’s widely recognized for not only her talent in acting, modeling and martial arts and her exceptional beauty, she’s also universally praised for being smart, nice, kind, gracious, down-to-earth, graceful and insightful. Everyone loves Michelle Yeoh, and she deserves all the praise coming to her. And, man, does she serve praise for her performance in “Everything.”

Yeoh’s Evelyn is alternately comedic, dramatic and even tragic. At the start of the movie, she’s just a laundromat owner, wife, mom and daughter to her dad, trying to navigate life’s idiocies, craziness and difficulties just like the rest of us, but then she’s abruptly dragged literally kicking and screaming through these crazy alternate, multiple universes, against her will and her wishes. She subsequently has to face myriad life-changing and life-challenging situations, and she uses all of her inner strengths and smarts to try to simply survive and, hopefully, get her life back.

Yeoh’s performance is a tour-de-force, and her portrayal of Evelyn shows how short-sighted the Hollywood suits are who haven’t given her even more parts than the ones she’s had through the years. While Yeoh has had some good parts in Hollywood–including an impressive star performance in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” opposite Pierce Brosnan in 1997 and roles in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Crazy Rich Asians”–she has still been under-utilized in the states. She deserves more, better lead roles, and if anything good comes from “Everything,” perhaps it will be an increased number of calls from A-list producers and directors who want to hire her.

Watching Yeoh’s Evelyn navigate her unexpected journey through the center of many minds and universes is watching a woman on the verge of not one but multiple breakdowns. Evelyn must somehow figure out how to survive not just her various varying layered lives, but she also must physically battle numerous villains who constantly appear to battle Evelyn and, well, everything else.

Yeoh is physical, she is non-physical, she demonstrates her still-impressive martial arts kicks, punches and chops, she has funny moments she has tender and loving moments, and, understandably, she has many moments of outright confusion, bewilderment, astonishment and surprise. She laughs and cries and kicks some royale tushy, and viewers just fall for Evelyn just as viewers have fallen for Yeoh and her characters for thirty-seven years now. Yeoh deserves praise for her role in “Everything,”and she is the best aspect of the film.

As noted, Quan, Hong, Hsu and Curtis deserve praise, too. And for those wondering, after amazing early success in “…Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” Quan, 50, did continue to act in various television and film roles through 2002, but he then left acting and worked behind the cameras until he returned to acting in 2019. He’s excellent in “Everything,” and it’s not hard to see, even at a very young 50, bursts of Short Round from “Temple” and Data Wang from “The Goonies.” Yes, the filmmakers of “Everything”gave Quan’s character the same last name as his character in “The Goonies.”

However, alas, everything comes back to the where of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and its troublesome, ultimately destructive reliance on that pesky, cliched multiple universe gimmick. Despite those great lead performances, as noted, that gimmick ends up over-shadowing and over-powering the movie–all at once.

There’s certainly, still, enough interesting stories to be told within just one universe in cultural endeavors. It’s time to consign and resign the multiple universe cliche to some alternate entertainment universe where cultural cliches are stored and stashed safely away for a long period of time, so other, more inventive, creative and original storytelling aspects can be utilized and enjoyed.

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