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'Everything Everywhere All at Once' explores the path not taken

Tonight for dinner, whether you choose Lebanese, Mexican, or Vietnamese, know that this decision will result in a split in reality, in which every road not taken will branch off into its own universe.

Or at least this is the premise of Everything Everywhere All at Once, and this “multiverse” concept is not so much a new idea as it is one that we’ve recently become a little more familiar with, maybe thanks to its popularity in superhero movies. This one isn’t a superhero movie, exactly, though it certainly has the trappings of one, as it stars the legendary Michelle Yeoh as a woman living a humdrum life running a laundromat with her husband when she’s contacted by a version of that husband from a different universe, a version who knows kung fu and is fighting a cosmic evil that’s bent on destroying all universes.

Yeoh eventually learns how to (sort of) cross universes and she sees the many, many different paths her life could have taken, while also being able to access the knowledge all of the different versions of her have that might help her fight this evil. It’s surprisingly not that difficult to follow, though there is a lot going on. And that hyperactivity is probably to the movie’s benefit—there are also so many jokes that there’s plenty to laugh at, even though the comedy is, by and large, a weakness for the film, as too many bits are simply taken too far or dwelled on too long to remain funny.

The movie’s bright shining light is its cast—not just Michelle Yeoh, but everyone involved, particularly Ke Huy Quan as Yeoh’s husband, in a sometimes heartbreaking, quietly inspiring performance. And thinking about the film now, all the multiverse stuff just kind of evaporates and what’s stayed with me is where it all goes with the human relationships. Regret, acceptance, disappointment, finding meaning—these are all parts of life no matter what universe you’re in, or even if you happen to be everything, everywhere, all at once.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is in theaters.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.