Michelle Yeoh Dazzles in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’
The list of women actors who haven’t had the hugely successful careers they deserve would fill a very long parchment scroll, and Michelle Yeoh’s name would be on it. Though many American moviegoers weren’t familiar with Yeoh until the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies—to be followed a few years later by Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—she’d been part of the 1990s Hong Kong film explosion, perhaps most notably as one of the stars, along with Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui, of Johnnie To’s nutso (and great) 1993 fantasy adventure Heroic Trio For that reason alone, it’s a thrill to see Yeoh’s career thriving, no matter what you end up thinking about her latest project, the action fantasy You can have everything at onceFilmmaking duo Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert directed the project, which they call the Daniels. You can find everything everywhere is fringey and wayward, too often frenetic only for craziness’ sake. Yeoh is the anchor. Yeoh gives you plenty of anchors to keep your attention even when everything around her falls apart. While she started her career as an actress, you will find that her smile is strong and holds your hand. She’s equal parts gravity and celestial radiance.
All You Need is a film about family—and about the pressures and expectations Chinese parents exert on their children, specifically—dressed up as a head trip, with a middle-aged woman as its superhero. Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, is the respectable, stressed-out owner of a laundry facility, which she runs with her mischievous but also somewhat retiring husband, Waymond. (He’s played, wonderfully, by Ke Huy Quan, the Vietnamese-born performer who had early career success as a child actor in Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom The GooniesIt was then that it became apparent that American film roles for mature Asian actors had been scarce in America during the 90s and 2000s. The film begins with Evelyn planning an event for James Hong, her father from China. He has been a constant critic of Evelyn since she fled China years ago. Joy Hsu, Joy’s daughter, is having a long-term relationship with an older woman. Evelyn finds this difficult to believe. And she’s facing an IRS audit: the agent is played by a frowning, persnickety Jamie Lee Curtis, a figure of grotesquerie with a too-tight turtleneck stretched across her frumpy (and obviously prosthetic) pot belly.
Read more reviews by Stephanie Zacharek
Yet that summary doesn’t even begin to suggest the multiple directions Daniels take with this story; its digressions shoot out like the spokes of a sputnik chandelier. (Daniels’ last film was the similarly unhinged black comedy Man of the Swiss Army,2016: Starring Paul Dano (a man stranded on a deserted Island) and Daniel Radcliffe (a corpse that he meets). Once Waymond and Evelyn reach the IRS office, Waymond’s character shifts: he claps a headset on his wife’s head and informs her that the fate of a complex multiverse rests in her hands. He then uses his trusted fanny-pack to attack the IRS security personnel. Evelyn, meanwhile, sees her life as she’s lived it pass before her eyes, and also sees another path she might have taken in an alternate universe. This hilarious gag is a fun poke at Yeoh’s idea of a “normal” person. Was a superstar in a country that wasn’t the United States, her success may as well have been earned in another universe.) There’s more, much more: in one of the multiverses, humans have wriggly hotdogs for fingers; an extended gag involving butt plugs wears out its welcome; a divine but not benevolent entity named Jobu Tupaki wreaks havoc at every turn.
There’s a distinct and welcome sense of playfulness to Daniels’ style, and they delight in staging the picture’s numerous martial-arts action sequences. It’s a pleasure to watch Yeoh spring to action, her character finding a new lease on life through speed and movement; her every move is rendered with ballerina grace. (It should surprise no one that Yeoh began her career as a ballet dancer, and even as she inches toward 60, she’s still got the moves.) But Daniels have too many ideas, and they don’t seem to realize that jettisoning the mediocre ones would have made the great ones shine. What number of butt-plug gags is a movie going to need?
It is the best part of Everywhere, EverythingIt is the exploration of the simple idea beneath all the chaos: Although there are often stresses, both acknowledged and unacknowledged, AnyMother and daughter. Asian mother-daughter relationships are fraught. Evelyn expresses disappointment in Joy because she dropped out of college. However, Joy berates her daughter about her weight gain. These types of remarks are par for the course in some families, regardless of cultural background, but that doesn’t make them any less stinging. Daniels find an unusual and potent metaphor for the layer of roiling frustration that underlies Evelyn and Joy’s love for one another—it’s the movie’s finest conceit (and no, I won’t give it away). You can’t walk away. Everywhere, Everything feeling you’ve just endured a cluttered, exhausting mess, Yeoh’s dazzling charm remains undimmed. Daniels may not be your kind of filmmakers—they’re probably not mine—but anyone who creates this kind of showcase for Yeoh earns a gold star in this universe, or in any other.
Register to Get More of the Story, TIME’s weekly entertainment newsletter, to get the context you need for the pop culture you love.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME