Everything Everywhere All At Once is a speeding bullet train of laughs, punches and parallel realities

You might be exhausted by the high energy and long runtime of Everything Everywhere All At Once. But Eliza Janssen says you won’t be bored or unmoved.

Thank the cosmos above that we live in the same reality as ass-kicking martial arts star Michelle Yeoh. It’d be a real shame if she were just a lowly laundry-owner in our universe, or a sign-spinner, or a teppanyaki chef, or a googly-eyed rock overlooking an endless desert.

Those are just a few of the realities that flicker by in Everything Everywhere All At Once, a hyperactive A24 sci-fi jaunt from the directors of Swiss Army Man. I vastly prefer this kung-fu-inflected odyssey to The Daniel’s last gross-out fantasy, but both might leave you feeling totally bewildered—that title is exhaustingly accurate.

Yeoh stars as bad wife and bad mum Evelyn, too distracted by her mid-life regrets to nail down her failing laundrette’s tax problems. Loving and loveable husband Waymong (Ke Huy Quan, such a welcome, revelatory return) is about to ask her for a divorce if she keeps neglecting his needs, and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) can’t feel any joy until her mum accepts her queerness and individuality. It’s both a blessing and a curse for Evelyn to realise that she has squandered her potential in this boring universe: all other versions of herself are fabulous, conquering wuxia masters or glamorous movie stars (seen on the Crazy Rich Asians red carpet in one brief hilarious cut), always tied to a nihilistic evil that’s gradually destroying the known universe.

In every world, some twisted version of Joy is that malevolent entity, wearing the sickest drips and altering reality to bludgeon her foes with everything from dildos to glitter cannons. In every world, Waymond is a force of good, yammering confusing threads of exposition to Evelyn to train her into the consciousness-hopping hero she is destined to be. All three actors are perfectly cast, making the drawn-out, explainy opening acts of the film fly by with breathtaking humour and energy. That’s before I even mention that Chinese-American screen legend James Hong appears as Evelyn’s cranky, wheelchair-using dad.

To hop parallel universes and gain your other self’s skills, the film’s warriors must perform mini stunts of improbability: chowing down on a Chapstick, slicing one’s own fingers with paper-cuts in one unwatchable Jackass-esque act, and, most hilariously of all, leaping ass-first off a desk onto a buttplug.

These comic scenes are followed by some wonderfully choreographed sword, fist, and bumbag fights, but I still couldn’t define Everything Everywhere All At Once as a true martial arts film with only a few significant fight scenes dotted across its long runtime. Not that its stars lack the credibility: Yeoh’s switch into, well, Michelle Yeoh mode is deliciously delayed, and watching her fight her way out of an office kink closet is worth the wait.

But the kinetic and emotional storytelling of this hyperactive film hinges far more on its family trio, first centring Waymond (and kinda Ke Huy Quan too!) as an under-sung romantic hero from another world before focusing on Evelyn and Joy’s strained mother-daughter relationship. The central parental metaphor of their love is blown out onto a macro and microcosmic level, but never obscured. For this Chinese migrant mum, her child moving away from well-meaning protectiveness towards bitter nihilism does feel like the end of time itself, slurped into the oblivion of a black hole at the centre of Joy’s “everything bagel”.

In between, we get glorious detours that move quickly enough so as to never pressure us into fully grasping any of them too firmly. I laughed out loud at the film’s extended parody of Ratatouille involving a veggie-slicing “raccaccoony” atop Glee star Harry Shum Jr’s head. Jamie Lee Curtis frequently steals the show as the ensemble’s unglamorous team player, wearing the hell out of hideous sausage fingers as Yeoh’s lover in one pastel-coloured reality.

If you felt a bit too old and slow to appreciate something as zippy as The Lego Movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once may be utterly tiring to you. It’s overly long, three intertitles breaking up the hefty sci-fi storytelling as much as possible, but the Daniels’ speeding bullet train of laughs, punches, and parallel leaps waits for nobody.

You’d better grab your ticket and hold on for dear life as the subtitles and sight gags barrel past. Nothing matters, Everything Everywhere All At Once posits, and that’s what’s so great about being here now.