Also reviewed this week: Benediction and The Innocents
Are you living your best possible life? In Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle Yeoh’s character Evelyn is reminded early and often that she is living her worst.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s hectic comic fantasy has more ideas than it knows what to do with, chief among them the notion that in parallel universes, different and possibly better versions of ourselves exist.
When first we meet her, Evelyn Wang is subsisting in the most mundane of all possible universes. Living above the tatty laundromat she runs with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), Evelyn spends most of her time arguing with customers and worrying about money: she’s in the process of being audited by the IRS and is also struggling to deal with the fact that her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is gay.
Nobody is feeling particularly gay when they file into the IRS’s offices to be given a stern dressing down by Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), a pedantic harpy with a terrifying pudding-bowl fringe.
The Wangs have not been keeping their accounts as they should: Evelyn has been claiming strange things as business expenses; her filing system is chaotic; and one key receipt ends up getting stuck to her shoe.
Deirdre is about to read her the riot act when something rather strange happens. Waymond, or rather an altogether more dynamic version of him from another dimension, appears from nowhere to tell Evelyn that the multiverse is in deadly peril and only she can save it.
A god-like sorceress called Jobu Tupaki has developed the ability to jump at will between universes and created a black hole which may at any moment swallow everything.
Evelyn is just digesting this grim news when IRS frump Deirdre, or rather a multiverse combat version, attacks and tries to kill the Wangs, who somehow manage to escape.
Evelyn is subsequently taught how to defend herself and also learns the art of jumping between universes, where she sees other and invariably better versions of herself: a happy Evelyn in a loving gay relationship with Deirdre, of all people; a great chef; an acclaimed singer; even a glamorous movie star who looks a lot like Michelle Yeoh.
As impressive as all these alternate versions are, none have managed to defeat Jobu Tupaki and save the multiverse — somehow, laundromat Evelyn will have to find a way.
The multiverse concept has been flogged to death in recent years, most tiresomely in the Marvel franchise.
But while films like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness have $200m budgets to throw at the challenges raised by astral voyaging, Kwan and Scheinert had barely $25m to bring their crazy schema to life.
Instead of cutting edge CGI, ‘The Daniels’ resort to sheer bloody-minded ingenuity and invention, and the grace and talent of their leading lady Yeoh, who carries this wild and ragged but ultimately irresistible film.
Part fantasy, part martial arts saga, part satire, part family melodrama, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once explodes into life from the opening frame, constantly challenging us to comprehend and process the jumbling images flitting past us.
At times, the overall effect is like watching someone flick through a storyboard at the speed of light, but salty wit and the steadying performance of Yeoh give us just about enough to cling to.
Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom!) is very good as Evelyn’s downtrodden but resourceful husband, and Jamie Lee Curtis relishes the cartoonish comedy inherent in her character.
The Daniels’ chaotic feature outstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes, and starts rehashing its own jokes, but as a sustained exercise in high-wire creativity, it is impressive.
And Yeoh brings heart and pathos to a character that might have been two-dimensional in the hands of a less intelligent actress.
Rating: Four stars
Of the Great War poets, Siegfried Sassoon was perhaps the angriest, the most significant. After entering the service in a rush of patriotism in 1914, he became a decorated war hero, but also a fierce critic of the conflict, exposing its true horrors in verse.
Raised in privilege, his wealth could not protect him from the psychological trauma of war, as Terrence Davies’ sumptuous, elegiac drama Benediction makes clear. Jack Lowden is well cast as the young Sassoon, who tries to come to terms with all he has seen during a forced convalescence.
To add to his difficulties, Siegfried is gay and endures several unhappy relationships with men like Ivor Novello before retreating to the safety of a convenient marriage.
Peter Capaldi is the older Sassoon, dried up and disillusioned, struggling with his newly revived Catholic faith. There’s an austere formality to Davies’ film which suits its sombre subject well, and Lowden is outstanding as the great but tortured poet, whose youth and peace of mind were shattered by the horrors of war.
Rating: Four stars
If horror’s job is to unsettle, The Innocents does so masterfully. Made on a shoestring by Eskil Vogt, the film is set in a high rise Norwegian housing estate, which doesn’t initially seem like too bad a place to live.
There’s a lake and wood nearby, and when nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) moves into an apartment with her family, she quickly makes friends. Ida’s older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) is non-verbal autistic and Ida resents the attention she gets.
When asked to bring Anna for walks, Ida abandons her and plays with Ben (Sam Ashraf), a bright but worryingly spiteful boy with telekinetic powers. Meanwhile, Anna begins to mysteriously emerge from her shell after meeting Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a younger girl who can read her mind.
The Innocents toys with the notion that the cruelty we sometimes glimpse in children might just be innate.
The film is mostly shot from three feet off the ground and shows us how children are mostly misunderstood by adults and instinctively keep each other’s secrets.
Rating: Five stars