New Release Friday: "Everything Everywhere All at Once"/"The Lost City"
One zings, the other doesn't.
The Nut Graf: “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (in theaters, ***1/2 out of ****) is a delightfully insane love letter to parallel universes, second chances, and Michelle Yeoh. “The Lost City” (in theaters, ** stars out of ****) is a microwave burrito of a movie: You’ll eat it while wondering why. Also: Two good Boston film festivals for the weekend.
There are movies where the creative energy is so bonkers, so high on its own imagination, that you find yourself hanging on by your fingernails. This can be a good thing: “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” say, or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” or, more recently, Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” It can be a not-so-good thing: “Cloud Atlas” from 2012, or “Jupiter Ascending” (2015) -- baroque sci-fi fantasies that topple over like a wedding cake with too much frosting. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is one of the good ones – it may be one of the great ones, but give it a few years – but it says something that the adjective I’ve seen crop up in more than one early review is “exhausting.” Since the “ex-” word I felt as I watched the movie was “exhilarated,” I have to wonder: Has the pandemic dulled our senses to the point that a film with a lot going on is too much to process? Or should we just shut up and be thankful for the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – their working name is Daniels – and for their dedication to building a movie around the great Michelle Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” a long list of Hong Kong action classics).
And what a movie. “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which opens in NYC and LA today and comes to Boston next week, ultimately lives up to its title, but it begins as a lousier day than usual in the lousy life of Evelyn Wang (Yeoh), a stressed-out, middle-aged Chinese immigrant who runs a laundromat somewhere in strip-mall America. The customers are obnoxious, her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is a useless dreamer, her father (the legendary James Hong) is a judgmental pill, and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is furious that mom won’t acknowledge her new girlfriend (Tallie Medel). And there’s a lady from the IRS – Jamie Lee Curtis has been given a full frump makeover for the role – who’s threatening financial ruination. Yeoh brings a bitter weariness to this invisible woman who looks out at the wreckage of her life and wonders what could have been.
And then she finds out.
On the elevator up to the IRS lady, Waymond is suddenly possessed by a different Waymond – one from an alternate timeline where they’ve learned how to jump from one parallel universe to another. In that universe, Evelyn is a pioneering scientist who has accidentally unleashed a force that may End Reality As We Know It, and Waymond 2.0 has been searching all the infinite multiverses for an Evelyn who can make things right. It’s the Butterfly Effect run amok: There are as many alternate timelines – as many different “you”s -- as there are decision-forks in a person’s life. In one of them, Evelyn is a master chef. In another, everyone has hot dogs for fingers. In a third, she’s a glamorous star of martial arts movie extravaganzas – she’s Michelle Yeoh, basically. Why would Waymond 2.0 pick this particular Evelyn – a failed Evelyn – to save the universe? He figures her life can’t get any worse.
This gonzo-Joseph Campbell storyline is a field day for Yeoh, especially when Evelyn learns she can channel the talents of the alternate Evelyns through a process that’s too blissfully silly to spoil here. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” knows it has one of the great action stars of the movies and it eventually makes good on the threat: Watching this disaffected woman try to work with the blazing wuxia skills she suddenly possesses is high comedy, affecting character drama, and inspired cinema all at once.
As advertised, Daniels throw all at their disposal into the Mixmaster: Sentient rocks, talking raccoons, mother love. I’m not giving too much away by saying that Armageddon in this film resembles a giant everything bagel. For a duo whose previous movie, “Swiss Army Man,” was an emotionally resonant buddy film that co-starred Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” somehow manages to up the ante on their ambition and execution. Among its many pleasures is the return of Ke Huy Quan, who as a child starred in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) and “The Goonies” (1985) and as an adult has worked mostly behind the camera; he toggles between the two Waymonds – one meekly clueless, the other a battle-scarred inter-dimensional warrior – with an ease and an agility that are delightful to behold. (There’s a third Waymond who’s like the lead in a lost foreign-movie romantic drama I’d love to see someday.) Curtis is very funny in a role that keeps taking unexpected left turns. But this is Yeoh’s movie, built for her by two proper idolators. Is it all too much? Check the title. Is it more than a little messy? Of course. You may find it, well, exhausting. But as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” charges to its brilliantly edited satori of a conclusion, I was put in mind of “The Aleph,” the classic 1945 short story by Jorge Luis Borges in which a man discovers a spot in his basement, just near the steps, from which he can see everything in the entire universe at the same time. Daniels Kwan and Scheinert haven’t pulled that off in one of their movies yet. But, God love them, they’re trying.
There was a 15-year run from the mid-1990s to the 2009 where Sandra Bullock was known as the Queen of the In-Flight Movie: Films you couldn’t bring yourself to pay to see in a theater but that were decent enough comfort food when taken in on a long plane ride or stumbled upon while channel-surfing cable TV. Then she won an Oscar for “The Blind Side,” and her career bumped back up into the A-list. “The Lost City,” a new adventure romance in theaters today, returns her to your seat-back menu, and that’s pretty much all I need to say about it. In a forced grafting of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Romancing the Stone,” Bullock plays an archaeologist/romance writer who finds herself on a treasure hunt with the dim-bulb hunk of a model who poses for her book covers. (You can hear the elevator pitch now: “Make Indiana Jones a lady and hook her up with Fabio.”) The hunk, at least, is played by Channing Tatum, who knows exactly what to do with fluff like this; he’s good fun and the movie is digestible and utterly predictable. Its wild card is a game performance by Daniel Radcliffe as the villain and its best moments involve a Major Motion Picture Star who drops in as if he’s doing a friend a favor and is gone all too soon. You will watch this on your next flight to Boca and you will wonder why you keep feeling like you’ve seen it before. Because you have.
Two good film events worth noting for Boston-area readers. The Belmont International Film Festival debuts online and in person tonight with the French drama “A Change of Heart” (the only trailer I can find is in French without subtitles, but the festival will have a subtitled print.)
And the hardy Boston Underground Film Festival is in the midst of its 24th annual edition at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge; it runs through the weekend and features some of the better and freakier midnight-movie offerings from Sundance, SXSW, and elsewhere. (“Watcher,” on Saturday at 6:45, is a good bet.)
If you enjoyed this edition of Ty Burr’s Watch List, please feel free to share it with friends.
If you’re not a paying subscriber and would like to sign up for additional postings and to join the discussions, here’s how:
If you’re already a paying subscriber, I thank you for your generous support.