Flicks With Nicki – ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’Nicki Salcedo. Photo by Fox Gradin.
Science fiction helps us expand our understanding of life. We ponder the future in “Star Trek” and the past in “Star Wars.” We consider the nature of reality in “The Matrix” and technology in “The Terminator.” H.G. Wells gave us time travel in “The Time Machine.” We’re seeing a resurgence of stories about other dimensions. From Buckeroo Banzai to Bizarro Superman, we wonder about the other worlds, other universes, which might be echoes of our own.
In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is an overworked laundromat owner and relationship-weary mother. She left China as a young woman and was disowned by her family when she married Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Years later, she resents her father (James Hong), feels distant from her husband, and avoids the truth about her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). An I.R.S. audit forces Evelyn to assess her business. We meet Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), a paper pusher who emits anger and bureaucracy. She’s as unfulfilled as the rest. For Evelyn, the audit is a window into her life. Each receipt is a sign of her disorganized hopes. Every slip of paper is a reminder of dreams she never realized.
All seems lost until a glitch in reality reveals Alpha Waymond. Her husband’s alter ego from another universe is a spy and super-soldier with a simple message: Evelyn is the one to save the world.
The looming foe is a mysterious force called Jobu Tupaki. The problem is that there isn’t just one world. There are many alternate universes. Evelyn begins to see different variations of the multiverse and the ramifications of her choices. With practice she can harness her own power from those other worlds. In her own small universe, the danger is losing touch with her family.
I like movies from A24, the film production company behind “Moonlight,” “The Florida Project,” and “The Farewell.” The stories range from horror to speculative fiction to tender family dramas. You will not get a traditional story arc or stereotypical characters. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is trippy science fiction, quirky action, and a story about relationships.
We see dramatic fight scenes. I will pay good money to see Michelle Yeoh kick and punch. But her Evelyn is also a singer, actor, chef, and a rock. A rock? Yes, this metaphysical exploration of everything that we can be means at times she is a sentient, but barely movable rock. I could relate.
Jobu Tupaki is a villain and fashion icon. We see Met Gala worthy costumes. The weapon of mass destruction is a donut of nothingness. Life feels meaningless to our hero and her archenemy, but is it? Quiet realizations pepper the film. What if marriage was the wrong choice? Would life have been better without children? For some, the answer is yes. For others, no. We must come to terms with our choices. The multiverse gives us a chance to reflect.
The excellence of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the merging of the mundane and spectacular.
Waymond is at first simple and simpering. Ke Huy Quan aptly becomes a spy and action star, but he also transforms into an elegant hero. He appears in a tuxedo discreetly smoking a cigarette. My heart fluttered. I want to be in that universe, but I remember that’s the universe without love. It delighted my childhood heart to see Ke Huy Quan on screen again. He’s a great actor. He’s amazing with his action choreography and his emotions. He did not disappoint.
Jamie Lee Curtis walks on screen as a deflated and flabby office worker, and then she becomes a killing machine. Eventually, she’s in a sweet romance except it’s farcical. Deidre and Evelyn have hot dogs for fingers. It is the theater of the absurd. Rocks that think. A raccoon for a best friend. Hot dogs for fingers. These universes are out there. The running gag of the subplots went on a bit long for me. I don’t mind a butt joke, but eventually the absurdity sometimes distracted me from the main story.
In the end, Stephanie Hsu and Michelle Yeoh take turns being the villain. Joy is ignored and angsty. Evelyn echoes her father’s detachment while understanding the pain of being disowned by your family. They are both wrong, and they are both right. Evelyn must find happiness in every world. For once we see a universe that belongs to us, tired mothers, just as much as any superhero. We might be simpering and ignored. We might be flabby and frustrated, but in another universe, we are all powerful. We all can access that strength if we want to.
I usually enter a multiverse with Loki, Spider-Man, or Dr. Strange. This time I entered it alone. As me. That overworked and relationship-weary mother. That superstar. We have many worlds to choose from. I’m glad this movie and Michelle Yeoh are in mine.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” Grade A-
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom.