As a title, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” qualifies as truth in advertising. This is movie as inundation. It’s daring, dashing, often delirious — except that the writer-director team of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (the Daniels, as they like to bill themselves) keeps the delirium under just enough control.
All right, so what exactly is “Everything”? Ah, that’s the problem (for a reviewer) as well as the blessing (for a viewer). It just isn’t like anything else. Oh, there’s some of the spirit of “Women on the Verge” Almodóvar or “American Hustle” David O. Russell. But that’s a matter of affinities shared and nothing more. “Everything” is a true one-of-a-kind — when was the last time you saw one of those? — a blend of comedy, sci-fi, domestic drama, immigrant saga, roller-coaster ride (of the cinematic sort), and star vehicle.
The star in question is Michelle Yeoh. Playing what must be the least glamorous role of her splendid career, she gives what is surely the most magnificent performance of that career. No one in the movies has a greater air of authority. Helen Mirren is regal. Yeoh is imperial. Who’d have guessed, then, that joining this actress’ authority to her character’s perplexity would produce such glorious results? All right, the Daniels did, and we are the beneficiaries.
Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, who runs a laundromat in Southern California with her husband, Waymond. He’s played, and quite well, by Ke Huy Quan. Quan has been pretty much missing in action since his child-actor days in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies.” That bit of resume weirdness fits right in somehow with the general spirit of “Everything.”
The Wangs are immigrants. (Most of the movie is in English, but some is in Mandarin and Cantonese, with subtitles.) Evelyn and Waymond are about to throw a Chinese New Year party at the laundromat. Complicating things is the presence of Evelyn’s father (James Hong) and the Wangs’ daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Actually, the problem isn’t Joy’s presence but that of her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel). Evelyn, a painfully devoted daughter who is a no less painfully strict mother, is aghast at how her father will react to his granddaughter being in a same-sex relationship.
All right, so far so hectic — but not overly so. Further complicating things is that the Wangs’ taxes are being audited. Before the party, they have to go to the local IRS office to meet with the auditor (a gleefully unrecognizable Jamie Lee Curtis).
Now’s when the roof really comes off. Or falls in. Or turns into a rainbow. Or the tornado transports Dorothy —oops, Evelyn — to Oz. A visitor from the Alphaverse (you know, the Alphaverse) reveals himself to her. He informs Evelyn — hard-working, overwhelmed, fretful Evelyn — that she has an extraordinary mission to undertake. “The fate of every single world of our infinite multiverse” depends on her, he says.
This doesn’t help with the audit. Also, the party guests should be arriving at the laundromat soon.
The multiverse aspect means we get to see Evelyn in various alternate lives. More important, Evelyn gets to experience them: as actress, chef, opera singer, novelist, holding a signboard by the side of the road, having an affair with Deirdre, the IRS auditor. At one point, Evelyn is watching a movie and — you will not be surprised to learn — it’s this one.
Oddball bits abound: edible lip balm, the chugging of Maalox, a toque-concealed raccoon, intentionally self-inflicted paper cuts (ouch), the wearing of shoes on the wrong feet, the ultimate all-everything bagel, a refrigerated Pekingese, hot dogs for fingers (hold the mustard).
The Daniels double down on their wildly overactive content with wildly overactive form. “Everything” includes home movies, surveillance footage, slo-mo, a silent-movie bit, puppetry, a “2001″ parody, animation, CGI (but also obvious process shots), wire work, martial arts. Hey, in case you’ve forgotten, it is Michelle Yeoh who plays Evelyn.
“Don’t forget to breathe,” Mr. Alphaverse tells her. He’s sure got that right.
Inventiveness and sheer buoyancy, which “Everything” has in abundance, will take a movie a long way. But not all the way. “Everything” is too long. The switching back and forth among alternate universes gets a bit fatiguing (though it can also be exhilarating). The movie’s too busy — except that being too busy is precisely the point.
There’s an even larger point, though, and it’s far more important than all the formal hijinks and wondrous high spirits. Wondrous high spirits are a version of joy — and there’s that other Joy. Remember her? At its heart, “Everything” is the story of a mother and daughter, two women who profoundly love each other, who profoundly drive each other crazy, who know that, at heart, they are each other, as parents and grown children inevitably are. In their persons Evelyn and Joy embody, and in their feelings they exalt, this whole business of alternate lives. The difference is they experience it as actuality, not fantasy. Really, everything everywhere all at once — as meaning, not title — is simply a roundabout way of describing a single word: love.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis. At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square. 132 minutes. R (some violence, sexual material, language). In English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.