June Butler is Everything Everywhere All at Once.
If Existentialism and Nihilism got together and had a romantic tryst, the resulting offspring would be Everything Everywhere All at Once. One of the wittiest films I have seen in a long time, it tops the scale of absurdities with panache and leaves audiences wanting more. It is almost as if the film Sliding Doors fell into a coma, woke up twenty years later with the strangest sense of déjà vu only to find itself projected onto the map of a brave and chaotic new world as social rules are rejected in favour of full-on crazy. On watching the film, it feels familiar but not recognizable yet foreign, common, quotidian and strange – all meshed together.
The drama is initially set within the family laundromat where Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh) lives a life filled with tedium and drudgery alongside her mildly eccentric husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). They have one daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who is gay – a fact that Evelyn is ashamed of and keen to ignore. Joy’s partner Beckie Sregor (Tallie Medel) is described to Evelyn’s authoritarian and bossy father Gong Gong (James Hong), as Joy’s ‘good friend’, a title that Joy finds hurtful and demeaning. Refusing to acknowledge or recognise glaring issues seems to be a family ritual, one that has filtered through two generations from Gong Gong to Joy, causing deep-rooted sadness and heartache. The clamour of compassion falls on silent grounds for the Wang family, yet no one concedes there is a problem. Grief and devastation seem to occupy centre-stage with palpable realness. The Wangs are a nuclear family living in the spectre of imminent destruction but are oblivious of that fact.
Evelyn and Waymond, along with a muttering and slightly demented wheelchair-bound Gong Gong, go to file their annual tax return with Internal Revenue. Gong Gong is entirely superfluous to the visit but still he is included – more evidence of the internal imbalance that pervades the Wang-Quon family. At the meeting, a frumpy IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (played with utter perfection by Jamie Lee Curtis), grills the family over their inexplicable and wanton spending. Evelyn is singled out for a scathing rant about putting a karaoke machine through as a business expense. Along with several other pricy ventures that have no connection whatsoever to the running of a laundromat. Evelyn is on the back-foot. Waymond cringes and wrings his hands. Gong Gong has mentally departed to a world of his own. Deirdre awaits Evelyn’s response with a level of imperious schadenfreude that would make a natural-born sadist weep. It is at this point Evelyn enters a parallel time capsule where nothing is as it seems. She is physically present as Deirdre Beaubeirdra admonishes her, but Evelyn has stepped through a portal where she is being prepped by a being from another universe to enter mortal combat with one Jobu Tupaky (aka the ‘bogie woman’) who has taken on the form of her daughter Joy. In this separate world, it appears that Evelyn is the only person who can save the day. Evelyn is being exhorted to explore the skills she almost mastered when she was younger and employ those talents to best the malfeasant Jobu. Confused and feeling unworthy, initially Evelyn resists the trial but eventually gives in and rises to the challenge. Everything Everywhere All at Once is about Chaos theory, a branch of mathematics that studies complex systems highly sensitive to minute changes in conditions. The smallest of alterations can lead to cataclysmic consequences. Evelyn is encouraged to revisit the past in order to make seismic shifts matter for future events.
At one stage, Jobu Tupaky tells Evelyn that nothing really matters. The statement is both true and profound which is where the nihilistic element of Everything Everywhere comes into play – nothing yet everything holds equal weight. The film addresses familial symbiosis – where unwitting verbal barbs between close relations cause wounds that can sometimes never heal. Suddenly within the toxicity and wrangling, Evelyn finds the most perfect opportunity to rectify and reconcile – one of atonement and forgiveness. She must return to the past and make changes so that things to come will be restored to balance. Chaos theory says that a butterfly flapping its wings in the jungle triggers the storm but what Evelyn sees, hears, feels, is the tempest that follows. She must cast off the yokes of ‘what if I had done this’ or ‘if only I had said that’ so that lousy decisions might give way to better ones. Who among us would not grab onto regrets of yesteryear and wish to amend them in favour of a later life more palatable and filled with less pain?
Casting for the film was seamless. Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu should take the utmost of credit for their sterling performances. But Jamie Lee Curtis as Deirdre Beaubeirdra is centre stage for an ‘out of this world experience’. Gone is the glamour-puss audiences have come to expect from Curtis, replaced instead by a disenchanted and bored drone, whose sole purpose in life is to thrive on clouds of toxic rage.
Witty, thoroughly refreshing, Everything Everywhere All at Once is spectacular and worth every heart-stopping moment. So, make sure the defibrillator is on standby, have the experts on speed dial for any possible pacemaker problems, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is in cinemas from 13th May 2022.