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Everything Everywhere All at Once

The title is very apt – there was a lot to take in, especially as I opted for a cinema screening (in one of the few picturehouses still showing a film that’s now also available to watch from home) and therefore didn’t have the luxury of pausing and going back. Mind you, if I don’t think I would have fared much better – aside from fast-paced movies of this nature being designed to be enjoyed in one hit, bits of it just are more than a little complicated, and it seemed best to just enjoy the ride as best as one can.

Such is the level of improbability in the storyline, however, that there were moments when I found myself in admiration of what technology can do these days in motion pictures rather than the plot itself. I rather like the idea of Internal Revenue Service agents and security staff being subjected to a full on martial arts assault from which their patrol batons and handguns prove to be entirely ineffective. But the action sequences get repetitive after a while, and there’s a near-total lack of suspense, when predictably, the protagonists make it through. It’s not so much triumph over adversity as triumph over absurdity.

Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs a launderette, as well as other miscellaneous business activities – Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), of the IRS, can’t see what certain business expenses have to do with running a launderette, and therefore refuses to sign off on Evelyn’s accounts. Her husband, Waymond Wang (yep!) (He Huy Quan), pleads for additional time to make amendments and corrections: Deirdre agrees to a resubmission by 6:00pm that evening.

There is more at stake in Evelyn’s world, or rather worlds: she must, apparently, go into various parallel universes and complete various challenges or otherwise the entire multiverse (whatever that is) will be destroyed. Relatively little is explained, and at one point, Evelyn, or a version of Evelyn in some other universe or other, is happy to just sit down for a moment and take a breather. If it means the entire ‘multiverse’ implodes or spontaneously combusts, or whatever, let it be. But Waymond, or rather an alternate character called Alpha-Waymond, “from the Alphaverse”, or the original universe, won’t let her rest. (I mean, watching someone sitting down and having a little snooze doesn’t make for great cinema viewing. I understand that much.) So, on she plods, bewildered and exhausted, being ported from universe to universe to universe.

It is, at surface level at least, somewhat amusing – I liked a scene where versions of Evelyn and Waymond (I think) were rocks in the desert (the odd thing, for me, about many of these universes, is that there wasn’t very much to distinguish between them) and communicated, not having mouths, telepathically. There are subtitles for the audience. In the ‘real’ world, so to speak, there are some themes of genuine interest, such as intergenerational relations: Evelyn is conscious of her own father, referred to only as Gong Gong (James Hong) – the name is Cantonese, apparently, for ‘grandfather’, but she is also dealing with Joy (Stephanie Hsu), her teenage daughter, with all of the angst and That’s Not Fair-ness that teenagers of the stroppy variety possess.

That alone would be the basis for a gritty movie – Joy has a girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), and while Joy has come out to her parents, she is yet to come out to Gong Gong. Then there’s the whole thing about this immigrant family who are trying to find their way in the United States, a topic woefully under-explored in a narrative that instead goes for pratting about between an infinite number of universes. Perhaps, as it has been argued elsewhere, the ‘multiverse’ is representative of virtual ‘worlds’ in which people find themselves in on account of online and/or mobile activity. Is the world of The Super Mario Bros. Movie a case in point? Quite possibly. But the science fiction stuff just gets in the way of a decent storyline, even if, as I began by saying, Everything Everywhere All At Once is the perfect title for a busy and chaotic film.

Three stars

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