Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
It’s very frenetic, very manic, and crazy. Literally, the pacing of this film is rapid-fire, much like a machine gun in what it is shooting at the audience. It’s not the chaos of a Michael Bay film, but the filmmakers certainly feel like they’re rushing here. There is quite a bit of action and comedic bits that help to carry it along. Yet, it felt boring after a while because the emotional build-up and the emotional climax didn’t work. Those action and comedic bits can be entertaining and the characters populating them interesting, but I ultimately didn’t care about any of it. It all whizzed and swirled in front of me without sweeping me up as I would have wanted. It’s one of those rare circumstances where the filmmakers, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, try to show us so much that they end up showing us so little. There’s a lot of razzle-dazzle that it perhaps overpowers the emotional substance bubbling beneath the surface.
Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) stars as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States with her husband when they were both young. They started a laundromat business where they also live. Evelyn has one child, a daughter who is now a teenager or maybe her early 20’s. Currently, her elderly father who needs care lives with them. She’s under a lot of stress because her laundromat is in the process of being audited. She has a pending meeting with the IRS in order to go over her accounting and settle her taxes. Customers at the laundromat are annoying her. Her husband is annoying her and she’s feeling anxious about the fact that her daughter wants to introduce her girlfriend to the family.
Stephanie Hsu (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Path) co-stars as Joy Wang, the daughter to Evelyn. The only thing we learn about Joy is that she’s gay or a lesbian. She has a girlfriend named Becky. It seems like she might be in college, but that wasn’t clear. She has her own car. It doesn’t seem as though she still lives at home, but the film doesn’t really delve into the specifics of Joy’s life, as those details along with other details don’t really seem to matter. There are some details that matter but none that resonate any deep feelings here.
During her visit to the IRS, Evelyn learns that she has the ability to transport her mind into alternate universes or alternate timelines where her life took different courses. In one universe, she became a singer. In another, she became an actress. In another, she became a chef. In some universes, she came to the United States. In other universes, she didn’t and stayed in China. To get to those other universes, Evelyn has to perform a series of actions. Those actions involve doing something to her body. Those actions can be as insignificant as changing her shoes or they can be as significant as committing some kind of bodily harm. The actions result in Evelyn jumping into a different universe. Kwan and Scheinert, collectively known as the Daniels, revel in the details of those actions that result in jumping. Jumping to other universes are in fact the key source of humor here. Yet, the film doesn’t revel in the details of Joy’s life or even Evelyn’s life.
Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) also co-stars as Waymond Wang, the husband to Evelyn. Despite being served divorce papers, he’s very happy-go-lucky. He has a very upbeat and positive attitude constantly. He does get frustrated or sad, but he seems to try to be positive or loving as much as he can. We don’t get much more details about Waymond. At least, we don’t get much more about Waymond in the current universe. We do learn a bit about Waymond in what’s known as the alpha-universe, but ultimately alpha Waymond doesn’t matter.
Given that this film is more focused on the mother-daughter relationship, it’s not much of an issue. However, at the end of the film when the Daniels want us to care about Evelyn and Waymond’s pairing or when their pairing is meant to have some kind of impact, it doesn’t. There’s just not enough investment there. Yet, the mother-daughter relationship does have enough investment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed as I was with the recent mother-daughter relationship in Turning Red (2022). Even, the brief depiction of the mother-daughter relationship in Crazy Rich Asians made more of an impression than the one here.
Again, the problem is that the narrative focuses on the greater fantastical idea of jumping to alternate universes that it loses or fails to convey what the true dynamic is between Evelyn and Joy. At first, it seems as though the issue might be homophobia, but it’s not that. There’s some issue between Evelyn, Joy, and Evelyn’s father, Gong Gong, played by James Hong (Kung Fu and Hawaii Five-0). The film never really delves deeply into that like the what or the why of that tension.
At first, I felt as though the film was attempting to be a mix of Minari (2021) and The Matrix (1999). Minari was Lee Isaac Chung’s story of Korean immigrants in rural America and their acclimation but from a young boy’s perspective. The Matrix was the Wachowski’s science-fiction adventure about a person realizing his mind can be transported into an alternate reality, a virtual reality, and the struggle of which reality is preferable. Actually, if Asian immigrant stories are one’s forte, then Alan Yang’s Tigertail (2020) is a more fleshed out narrative, but otherwise, the Daniels seem to want to reach for the same heights as the Wachowskis or even the depths of Chung but don’t quite achieve it.
Rated R for some violence, sexual material and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 19 mins.
In select theaters, including Salisbury, Lewes and Dover.