This hipster hypefest is an adventure in alternative existences and multiverse realities from writer-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – the “Daniels” – who in 2016 gave us the Jonzeian comedy Swiss Army Man. Everything Everywhere All at Once has been critically swooned over in the US and pretty much everywhere else, so it’s disconcerting to find it frantically hyperactive and self-admiring and yet strangely laborious, dull and overdetermined, never letting up for a single second to let us care about, or indeed believe in, any of its characters.
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a Chinese-American woman who co-owns a scuzzy laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan); Evelyn is discontented with her life and has a tense relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), using Joy’s frail and old-fashioned grandfather Gong Gong (James Hong) – who lives with them – as an excuse not to accept Joy’s gay identity. Evelyn reaches a crisis when confronted by an angry tax officer, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is auditing their business, and furious about Evelyn’s attempts to claim deductions for a karaoke machine for the laundromat’s community party nights, at which Evelyn also offers food. In her heart, poor Evelyn figures she could have been a singer, or a chef, or a movie star in another life and this tax-deduction issue triggers a crazy journey into any number of different universes for more than two hours.
There are some nice gags and sprightly Kubrickian touches, and one genuinely shocking scene when Evelyn fat-shames her daughter – an authentically upsetting moment of family dysfunction that seems to come from another film, one in a parallel universe. But this mad succession of consequence-free events, trains of activity which get canceled by a switch to another parallel world, means that nothing is actually at stake, and the film becomes a formless splurge of Nothing Nowhere Over a Long Period of Time. Again, this film is much admired and arrives adorned with saucer-eyed critical notices… I wish I liked it more.