Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 2022. AGBO, Hotdog Hands, Ley Line Entertainment, Year of The Rat. Screenplay by Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert. Cinematography by Larkin Seiple. Produced by Dan Kwan, Mike Larocca, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wang. Music by Son Lux. Production Design by Jason Kisvarday. Costume Design by Shirley Kurata. Film Editing by Paul Rogers.
For Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), the pressures of everyday life boil down to the two most mundane duties, there’s nothing more unavoidable or wearing to the soul than laundry and taxes, and she has her fill of both. The laundromat that she has been running with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is failing and they are set to go see their IRS auditor (played in a schlubby fat suit and bad wig by Jamie Lee Curtis) to find out the enormity of financial trouble that they are in. Their personal problems as a family aren’t helping to lighten Evelyn’s load either, her husband has divorce papers in his pocket that he is preparing to serve her, her disapproving father (James Hong) is visiting and despite age and senility has not lightened up on his critical attitude towards her, and her fraught relationship with her resentful daughter (Stephanie Hsu) is disintegrating by the second.
At the IRS building, while listening to the news that they could lose everything due to accusations of fraud, Evelyn is treated to the only thing that could save so unbearable a situation: a visit from another world. Waymond is taken over by another personality, who tells Evelyn that he is a version of her husband from an alternate universe who has come to enlist her help. A villain known as Jobu Tupaki has broken the code of the multiverse and is creating what he believes is a doomsday machine, and the brave fighters in the Alphaverse (that’s universe #1) have been going through multiple Evelyns looking for the one to take on the task of saving all human existence.
Evelyn’s tax troubles don’t improve when she suddenly starts busting out fight moves among the office cubicles, which then leads to a long night moving around the building while discovering ways that she can switch to alternate realities where different choices lead to different outcomes. In our world she defied her father and married a man he didn’t approve of, but in another she stays with her family and becomes a glamorous movie star, in another she’s a sushi chef, and in yet another she has hot dogs for fingers and plays piano with her feet. When she discovers the identity of Jobu Topaki and what the character represents to the survival of her family, she also learns that putting things right doesn’t involve kicking ass and defeating bad guys in a fight, but in embracing a more positive view of life and love.
A well-intentioned allegory that is meant to help us all lighten the mental weight of living in a world whose worrisome problems keep multiplying is treated to a wondrous concept that looks for every possible opportunity to expand on its every single detail, while also managing to maintain a sweet and optimistic attitude. The film is far too conceptually heavy, though, and requires too much time spent on explaining its rules and regulations, so that by the time you reach the All You Need Is Love ending one is exhausted from trying to keep the details straight.
The possibilities of multiverse theory (more commonly known to fans of superhero movies) have become the new time travel, the more clever you get with them, the more likely it is you’re circling back on major flaws that you then have to work harder to obscure; in this case, problems include far too much repeated apologia to explain things at the end, and the fact that our world is supposedly one in a sea of random billions but no explanation is given for why it is, as in many other films before it, the one that matters the most and brings things to their ultimate catharsis. Themes of motherhood, community and self-acceptance are richly embedded into the exasperating, imaginative efforts of the plot, but the more emotional confrontations feel like they relieve the narrative burdens of all the technical jargon, rather than enrich us with a tale of healing and restoration.
What keeps it on track is Yeoh herself, a remarkably classy performer who maintains personal strength and underplayed control in every scene; the film threatens to cause a spontaneous migraine in anyone not already a junkie for films that move at a channel-flipping pace, but such a woe is kept at bay by Yeoh’s keeping a multiverse of complex emotions masterfully afloat in every moment that she’s on camera (and there are few moments in the film when she is not). She’s surrounded by a cast giving expertly, intentionally overwrought performances, and their joyous energy only makes her quiet power seem that much more potent.