A trip to the IRS office is the jumping off point for Everything Everywhere All at Once, an uproarious head trip about a woman whose tax audit opens a worm hole in the universe. Real life adulting is the ultimate foe to be vanquished in this deliriously haywire fantasy, a cinematic tab of acid buried in a metaphysical fable.
As the film opens, Chinese-American laundromat owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is summoned to a doomsday meeting with a golem-like IRS agent boasting a schoolyard taunt of a name, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (a wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis) to account for grocery sacks of suspicious laundromat receipts.
Driven to distraction in her effort to run the family laundromat from a hoarder-esque adjacent apartment while navigating broken relationships with her surly millennial daughter Joy (a wonderful Stephanie Hsu), grumpy elderly father (James Hong) and her neglected nebbish husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), Evelyn is consumed with responsibility. Everything Everywhere All at Once is an aria for the hopes and dreams of an exhausted underclass, in the mode of Parasite.
The IRS showdown sends this loopy fantasy off the rails as Evelyn discovers mid-audit that meek, fanny-pack wearing Waymond is a portal to a thousand different realities, representing all the roads not taken in his and Evelyn's life. With the right tools, Evelyn can jump out of her grim present to countless other multiverses including a life of cozy lesbian domesticity, an existence as a primordial rock, as a Wong Kar-wai-style movie star, or perpetuity as a sandwich board spinner.
Her ultimate objective in that time tripping: to defeat a rampaging foe costumed in raccoon eye halos of glitter, Bjork-level extraterrestrial hair and jaded club kid garb who represents a younger generation's nihilism.
Everything Everywhere All at Once channels a psychedelia of the mundane, equal parts H.R. Pufnstuf and The Office.
It's a hellscape of government cubicles and dragoon security guards where epic warfare is waged between Evelyn and the cyclops IRS agent Deirdre, who has the slow-moving sway of a tyrannosaurus, as well as coddled lap dogs wielded like deadly yo-yos. An antidote to the soulless grind of endless immigrant toil, Everything Everywhere All at Once is the fantasy of every wage slave caught in a daydream fugue about escape from crushing responsibility.
If every fantasy documents the triumph of an underdog, Evelyn is the most neglected and underrated of movie heroines: a bedraggled, exhausted but ultimately triumphant mother. Though Everything Everywhere All at Once's many-tentacled plot reads like a video game designed under the influence of ayahuasca, at its kooky heart it's a melodrama about an Imitation of Life-worthy conflict between a mother and daughter and an immigrant story about generational miscommunication.
Writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's most outrageous coup is Evelyn. Though the wackadoodle storyline might seem like its most subversive element, even more radical is the Asian woman at the film's center.
That its triumphant life force and practitioner of kung fu badassery is a middle-aged woman in off-brand sneakers and a sad plastic hair clip feels revolutionary.
Nothing about the Daniels' loopy script reads like the road to a Hollywood greenlight, though Marvel directors and the film's producers Joe and Anthony Russo undoubtedly helped shepherd their vision into reality.
That a storyline this haywire filled with endless cutbacks, sideways meanders and plain insanity has seen the light of day is glowing testament to both the talents and perseverance of Kwan and Scheinert, as well as a Hollywood that surely needs this infusion of their fresh, heartfelt vision and a different breed of superhero.
An inventive journey to another reality with a core of sweetness, Everything Everywhere All at Once leaves you breathless with its imagination and sense that the forces of good can triumph after all.
The progeny of Charlie Kauf-man and Spike Jonze, Kwan and Scheinert are also the spiritual cousins of Steven Spielberg thrill rides like Raiders of the Lost Ark. But this giddy entertainment comes with something different: a sense of warmth and kindness that harkens back to the golden age of Hong Kong film and a sensibility the world needs more of.