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Review: 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' is as encouraging as it is on-point

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a filmmaking duo collectively known as Daniels, call their new action dramedy "Everything Everywhere All At Once." Critic Bob Mondello says he has never heard a more accurate title.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Evelyn Wang has a lot on her plate - running a laundromat, running interference between a traditional Chinese father and untraditional lesbian daughter and a husband holding a divorce petition that she might have seen coming if she'd stopped moving long enough to see it coming, not to mention she's organizing a Chinese New Year's party. So small wonder her mind wanders...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

JAMIE LEE CURTIS: (As Deirdre Beaubeirdra) Mrs. Wang - hello?

MONDELLO: ...During her IRS audit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

CURTIS: (As Deirdre Beaubeirdra) Look. I'm sure you have a lot on your mind, but I cannot imagine anything mattering more than the conversation we are now having concerning your tax liability.

MICHELLE YEOH: (As Evelyn Wang) I know. I am paying attention.

MONDELLO: Evelyn says that, but she's still thinking about how her husband Waymond pulled her into a janitor's closet just before the audit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

KE HUY QUAN: (As Waymond Wang) Evelyn, I'm not your husband.

MONDELLO: OK, he sure looks like her husband, but he says he's Waymond from another universe and that...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

QUAN: (As Waymond Wang) Across the multiverse, I've seen thousands of Evelyns.

MONDELLO: Evelyns whose skills and memories she can access to help combat an evil spreading among the multiverse's many verses.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

QUAN: (As Waymond Wang) And you may be our only chance of stopping it.

MONDELLO: Which is a lot to process.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

YEOH: (As Evelyn Wang) Very busy today. I have no time to help you.

MONDELLO: You can see why she's distracted. What you can't see - on the radio, at least - is what the distraction looks like. And as Daniels Kwan and Scheinert do picture it, it is deliriously visual, like a swirling, wildly inventive two-hour music video with dialogue in three languages, rapid-motion effects, shifting aspect ratios as Evelyn learns to multiverse-hop in pursuit of - well, of her best self, maybe. She has lots of selves to choose from.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

YEOH: (As Evelyn Wang) This doesn't make any sense.

MONDELLO: Actually, it does. The gist of the film's multiverse is that every time you make a choice, from who to marry to what to have for breakfast, there's an alternate universe in which you made a different choice, and the sum of those different choices makes a different you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

YEOH: (As Evelyn Wang) I need to find the right Evelyn.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Evelyn) No. No. Wait. Let me try again.

MONDELLO: So when Evelyn, who's played by martial arts star Michelle Yeoh, starts hopping around, she discovers the Evelyn she would have been if she hadn't, say, left China with the boyfriend her dad didn't like to start a California laundromat and instead grew up to be a glamorous Asian movie star not unlike Michelle Yeoh.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

YEOH: (As Evelyn Wang) Think about it.

MONDELLO: And her husband Waymond, who looks like a grown-up version of that adorable kid who played Short Round in "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom" - because he is that kid grown up, Ke Huy Quan - is, in our universe, a sweet, googly eye-obsessed, fanny pack-wearing dweeb and, in other universes, a martial arts master who clobbers hitmen with his fanny pack.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) OK, sir. That's enough.

MONDELLO: A kickboxing Evelyn is the one who clobbers the IRS auditor played by Jamie Lee Curtis or, in another universe, marries her.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

CURTIS: (As Deirdre Beaubeirdra) I can see where this story is going. It does not look good.

MONDELLO: There is also a universe in which humans have hot dog fingers, one with raccoon chefs - the Daniels seem to love variations on Pixar's "Ratatouille" - and one where a character says the bagel will show you the true nature of things. And you think, of course, the everything bagel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

STEPHANIE HSU: (As Joy Wang) The universe is so much bigger than you realize.

MONDELLO: All in the name of family, love, healing and, most of all, kindness.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")

YEOH: (As Evelyn Wang) I just want to be here with you.

MONDELLO: There is so much that is so flat-out affirmative in "Everything Everywhere All At Once" that even when the madness starts to feel less like chaos theory than chaos practical, the film is still as encouraging as it is on-point. Life in 2022 - just think about the stories you've heard today on this show - is overwhelming. How great to be overwhelmed and amused and comforted by "Everything Everywhere All At Once." I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FENCE")

MOSES SUMNEY: (Singing) Only meant to give you my all, never meant to build you where you are. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.