What is to follow is yours truly attempting to describe the impossible. The first thing to say about this particular brand of impossible is that it is called Everything Everywhere All at Once. If you read that title as a sentence, this too is impossible, unless you are God. This will factor into the review later, so keep this concept in mind. Given how much focus on film I have in my life, one might think it impossible for me to miss a release, but somehow I did with this one. Thankfully, this past weekend offered the infinitely possible to pass up titles of Memory and The Aviary. How is it possible that Liam Neeson keeps getting asked to repeatedly make essentially the same film? I am referring to Memory, but please feel free to look it up and tell me I am wrong. Anyway, I was intrigued by the impossibly titled Everything Everywhere All at Once, and this review will get into my reasons for my interest. And if you noticed a theme so far, it is me trying to emphasize my Faith and understanding that this is not how we humans work. Or does it matter? If you have seen this film, you will know that is a fair question.
Typically, I give you a rundown of the plot in this paragraph. That, too, is virtually impossible with Everything Everywhere All at Once. It is one of the most non-linear plots I have ever seen, and usually that would annoy the crap out of me. Still, there is a faint thread to be followed that is discernible if you can get past the dimensions of people with hotdog fingers, or scenes of others trying to shove various items up their butts. There are worse images, but I will try to rein it in as much as possible. The main character is Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a preoccupied owner of a barely functioning laundromat. “Main character” is bit of an understatement, but standby for further explanation on that aspect. Her preoccupation is further preoccupied by her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who is attempting to get her mother to recognize the legitimacy of her lesbian relationship with Becky (Tallie Medel). Another matter that is being heaped upon Evelyn’s impossibly preoccupied life, so much so that she is not noticing it, is her failing relationship with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). As you might be able to tell, there are a number of reasons already for why this might be slipping her notice, but the most evident one is that he maintains a good attitude despite the mounting chaos. Between the myriad of receipts she is sorting through, the crowded apartment above the laundromat, trying to take care of (and still impress) her elderly father, Gong Gong (James Hong), Joy’s drama, an upcoming Chinese New Year celebration for their community of customers, and the more imminent trip to the see an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, you can see there is a lot happening. And this is only roughly the first fifteen minutes. It is when they go to see said agent, Deidre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), facing a hefty audit, that things truly go off the rails.
The set up thus far for Everything Everywhere All at Once seems fairly straightforward. Evelyn is a struggling family matriarch who is dissatisfied with virtually everything in her life. When she arrives at the IRS building with Waymond and Gong Gong to meet with Deidre, something impossible happens in the elevator with Waymond. With a flick of his head, her husband is now a different Waymond, this one from a different dimension where they have learned to jump between alternate versions of themselves across the multi-verse. This “Alpha” Waymond, so named for the original universe from which he comes, is here to warn Evelyn that she is in grave danger. There is a threat to all of existence known as Jobu Tupaki, who you and I would recognize as Joy. Indeed, she is the Joy from the Alpha Universe. Further, in that realm Evelyn had been the one to figure out how to do the impossible and travel between different versions of herself, acquiring different skills along the way. When she attempts to pass this knowledge onto Joy, it fractures the mind of her daughter. Adopting the moniker Jobu Tupaki, she makes it her business to hunt down and kill every form of Evelyn in existence. Alpha Waymond has come to help this Evelyn avoid this fate because Jobu Tupaki has gone further, coming up with something called the “Everything Bagel.” It is essentially a black hole into which she seeks to destroy all of existence. Alpha Waymond gives Evelyn the tools she needs to do her own verse-jumping, acquiring the skills she needs from other Evelyns to ultimately defeat Jobu Tupaki, hence why I say that she is more than the “main character.” So many Evelyns.
At this point in this review of Everything Everywhere All at Once you might be asking yourself: butts? Hotdog fingers? The “Everything Bagel?” What the heck is a Jobu Tupaki? This movie has got to be impossible to follow. You could be correct with such an assumption. Let me endeavor some further explanation, and we will start with butts. In what I will call the impossible logic of this film, whenever you want to jump between universes, you have to perform some strange act with conviction. For a few of Jobu Tupaki’s henchmen, this means shoving things up their rectums. It is pretty gross. As for the impossible notion of people with hotdog fingers, it is an alternate dimension where humans evolved with having everyone’s favorite ballpark snack in the place of our handy digits. Because those hands are now essentially useless, we do everything with our feet. Also gross. Not all of these different dimensions are disgusting. There is one where Evelyn is a kung fu action star (which is how they work in Michelle Yeoh’s martial arts skills), but with impossibly strong pinkies. Another has everyone as rocks. You can see where the ability to punch and kick would help, but the rock one has a purpose, too. At any rate, Evelyn moves between these dimensions with more regularity as she learns to use this new ability, and it is all about confronting Jobu Tupaki. This brings me to the “Everything Bagel.” It is the “villain” who invents the bread ring. I put villain in quotation marks, by the way, because Evelyn is able to redeem Jobu Tupaki in the end, which seems like an impossible task throughout the movie. Joy creates Jobu Tupaki and the deadly pastry not necessarily to destroy everything, but specifically to destroy herself. Even more to the point, she wants Evelyn to be there with her when she gives herself over to it. It is less a metaphor for how nothing matters, which is what Jobu Tupaki wants people to believe, and more a cry for her to be noticed by her preoccupied mother. Some people get tattoos. Joy decided to create an alter-ego and endanger all of existence.
With all this being said, Everything Everywhere All at Once is an impossible movie. What I am not inviting is an impossible to solve debate over whether alternate dimensions are real. That is not how my Faith works, or at least how I have experienced, nor do I believe it is particularly relevant. Where this concept works is in the realm of the imagination, and that is something with which God has abundantly blessed us all. As infinite as these things may seem in our minds, God is infinitely bigger than all of it. As such, I say hang the sense of it and trust in God. The best part of this movie, though, is how the impossible becomes possible. Everything else is simply window dressing. Specifically, I am referring to the heart of the movie, the relationship between Evelyn and Joy. For all the talking raccoons, bloated IRS agents, and crazy costume choices, the film is really about a daughter crying out to her mother. Of course, mom has her own issues to work out, with her relationship with her dad and husband being at the top of the list, not to mention their financial troubles. The impossible scenarios presented, be they imaginary or real, help her to gain the right perspective on her life. In the end, Joy just needs Evelyn to be present. It is not about giving space, approving of lifestyle choices, or smothering with affection, but being there and showing love. This is not all that different from the way God loves us. He is always next to us, whether or not we acknowledge Him. We do not always understand His decisions, such as how Joy does not like how Evelyn brings up Becky to Gong Gong. Yet, the love is there unconditionally. This is what both Evelyn and Joy learn in the end.
I am sure I have failed at the impossible in adequately describing Everything Everywhere All at Once to you. One thing that I shall not fail to mention is that there is some inappropriate material, such as when Jobu Tupaki kills a few people using a sex toy. Thankfully, the film is not full of such images, and instead they have a lot of fun with the concept. Some might say they had too much fun. At any rate, if you can get past the wildness and the R rating, there are some tender moments here that make it a surprising recommendation on this reviewer’s part.