The Universe in a Grain of Sad

It’s a fool’s errand to attempt a verbal summary of the kaleidoscopic, existential, fugue-state-cum-“mushroom-trip through the multiverse” that is “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” All I can say is: See it. Be with it. Be in it. Love it.

You’ll know from the opening scenes, traversing the cluttered, dense, and layered confines of a Chinese family’s laundromat — as dialog bounces between English, Chinese, mashups of both, and subtitles only, —  that you’d best pay attention. And when the beat drops — when the plot conceit rips you out of the here and now — you had better be strapped in!

The plotline crosses six or seven parallel universes — alternate life paths the aging matriarch might have lived if she had made different choices — all woven together in a single chord, resolving her desperate attempts to salvage her crumbling business and crumbling relationships between herself, her daughter Joy, her husband, and her aging, disabled father.

Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Tomorrow Never Dies; Crazy Rich Asians), Ke Huy Quan (“Short Round” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), James Hong (ubiquitous; you’ll recognize him) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies, Knives Out, and every 14-year old’s dreams after Trading Places) make up the veteran core of the ensemble. Stephanie Hsu (familiar to me from her role as Mei in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) is the not-so-uknown young talent launched on this 12G, face-peeling rocketship-romp, in the dual role of daughter Joy and the all powerful “Jobu Tupaki.”

This movie is visually intense. There were moments in the unrelenting deluge when I longed for the simple sight of a silent black and white image of a train slowly pulling into the station.  Or the sweeping Panavision tableau of Saharan sand, in Lawrence of Arabia.

But even this most modern of films cannot slip the confines of the stage axiom known as “Chekhov’s Gun,” which says: “If a butt-plug shaped trophy appears in act 1, it better damn well end up in someone’s butt in Act 2.”  Or something like that.

Then add the number of film-genre universes lovingly homaged and parodied. I mean, who can convert stereotypical jabs at Chinese pronunciations into loving tribute to an animated Rat/Chef? A fanny pack as a nun chuk? A pomeranian as a chain mace “gogo Yubari”?

Simply assembling this “Jackie Chan in Kill Bill meets Jean-Paul Sartre on an Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” fever dream into a comprehensible narrative should be enough to win its writers, director and editor every award on offer. But simultaneously retaining poignant emotional depth, humor, and nuance — allowing every audience member to identify with every character, all at once — is astounding.

If you are a parent who has had difficulties with a child…

If you are a child who has had difficulties with a parent…

If you are a spouse…

This absurd, hilarious, mind-bending, current, heart-wrenching and ultimately beautiful tapestry will seep into your soul and leave you hopeful: That in spite of the cacophony all around, what you need is always right in front of you — in everything, everywhere, all at once.

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(Note I said it here: (as I put my prodigious prognosticating proclivities on the line   I called Best Picture for Rain Man in 1988. I called the double Best Picture/Best International Feature Film win for Parasite in 2020.)

Nearly a year out from awards season, I predict Everything… will win Best Editing, and Best Screenplay, at least. Best Director and Best Sound, possibly. Outside track for Best Picture. Michelle Yeoh will be nominated for best actress, at least and could win it. And Jamie Lee Curtis wins hands down for the actress most comfortable in her own skin.


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