The trailer that everyone is talking about is now a movie everyone is talking about. Although frequently undone by its own relentless, sometimes exhausting, zaniness, Everything Everywhere All at Once is that rarest and most commendable of commodities: an original science-fiction film with a mid-sized ($25 million) budget and a big, galumphing concept.
Adding a neat and welcome spin to your average The One narrative, the second feature from the Daniels – the collective that produced lopsided cult favourite Swiss Army Man – casts a middle-aged woman with tax problems as its possible multiverse saviour.
Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is struggling with an audit, her elderly father (James Hong), her disgruntled lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and her launderette business. And that’s before she realises that her meek husband Waymond ( Goonies star Ke Huy Quan) has failed to paint the damp patch on the ceiling and is about to serve her with divorce papers. Before he can do so, a family visit to the office of no-nonsense IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis, having a ball) introduces Alphaverse Waymond, a guide for Evelyn to various parallel existences, where she is alternately a chef, a movie star, a martial artist and a rock. Her daughter, meanwhile, may or may not be the ultimate force for evil – a nihilistic tyrant known as Jobu Tupaki – with an everything-bagel vortex at her disposal.
If that sounds wacky, stay turned for the hot-dogs-for-fingers universe (a joke with diminishing returns), people as pinatas and the teppanyaki chef who is secretly puppeteered – Ratatouille-style – by a raccoon voiced by Randy Newman.
Those expecting the martial arts multiverse hinted at in the trailer may be disappointed by the limited amount of screen time afforded to arse-kicking, even if we are treated to “kung fu as a cookie” and weaponised giant rubber phalluses.
More Buckaroo Banzai than Doctor Strange, at times the constant throwaway references and japes put one in mind of Seth MacFarlane’s animated cutaways. They are peppered far too liberally over two-and-a-quarter hours.
At its core, however, this is a big-hearted family drama about acceptance and a love story between an older married couple. It falls to the terrific Yeoh to hold all the subplots and occasional comic misfires together. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else bringing the emotional depth that Yeoh gives to a role initially written for Jackie Chan. That version remains, tantalisingly, in another gender-swapped corner of the multiverse.