Thursday, March 24, 2022

Reviews: Asian Mothers and their American Children Deal With Everything (Bagels) in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Turning Red” and “7 Days”

Everything Everywhere All at Once (c) A24

Film: Everything Everywhere All at Once 
In Cinemas 

“Everywhere” is the easiest part to explain in the wacky and highly enjoyable “Everything Everywhere All at Once”: It’s the multiverse. And if you think that’s hard enough to understand (the new Marvel movies' storylines help a little), just imagine it’s your immigrant Chinese mother you have to explain it to.  And that’s the case with Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). who is a laundromat owner dealing with the IRS when a variant version of her husband (a sympathetic Ke Huy Quan, yes from “The Goonies”) tells her the world is about to end. And like explaining how not to hit the phone screen with your finger but glide it to my own mother, Evelyn has to have it explained to her many times before she gets the hang of it (my mother, not so much). “Everything” is harder to characterize without spoiling the fun (the less you know, the better), but just imagine if life was an everything bagel, which is yummy except for the garlic. Well, how you deal with the garlic is how one will enjoy the bagel (and thus life).  Told you it was hard. But, “All at Once” is what makes the film by directors Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert, who made “Swiss Army Men”) a bit overwhelming during your initial viewing. Like “Donnie Darko” and “The Matrix,” Daniels probably expects fans (and there will be many) to keep rewatching and try to figure out the meanings of the googly eyes stickers, the fanny pack or the raccoon. But, even when the running time wears you down, you will still enjoy the audacity of the film’s spirit, its fearlessness of imagery and its joy in referencing other movies like “Ratatouille,” “In the Mood for Love” and every Jackie Chan movie in which he plays twins. This movie would not work if Michelle Yoeh wasn’t game for this journey, and she is magnificently badass in, dare I say, her best performance ever. She plays many versions of herself, including a variation of the movie star Michelle Yoeh we know, even seen in a montage at the “Crazy Rich Asian” premiere. But the whole cast is having a grand time, including Stephanie Hsu, who I know from Broadway’s “Be More Chill,” the legendary veteran actor James Hong and a deglamorized Jamie Lee Curtis. It all heads towards a rather sentimental ending that might be a bit much for such a genre movie, but it ultimately works. You have to see this crazy movie on the big screen to get the full effect. This film is “The Matrix” on crack. 

Turning Red (c) Disney/Pixar

Film: Turning Red 
On Disney+ 

All 13-year-old Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) wants to do is go to a 4*Town (think O-Town and Backstreet Boys) concert with her friends when adolescence and hormones hit her hard. What she doesn’t know is that the women in her family have a gift (or curse, depending on your perspective) in which they turn into a red panda when they get worked up. Thankfully, her mother (Sandra Oh), her grandmother (Wai-Ching Ho) and a band of aunties have a way to tame the panda. But Meilin, who, at first, is mortified by her transformation, soon learns to deal with and even like her changing body. Yes, yes, yes, the whole red panda metaphor is not hard to decipher, but once you get past this tricky, puberty premise, the movie settles into a crazy fun groove that only derails when it gets to an over-the-top “Ralph Breaks the Internet”-like finale. Director Domee Shi directed the Oscar-winning short “Bao,” which also dealt with a complex relationship between a Chinese mother and her child. And here, like in Pixar’s “Brave,” “Luca” and “Inside Out,” the Disney trope of childless mothers is now turning into ones with rebellions, tough love and occasionally animagus (to borrow a term from the Wizarding World). The whole trying to have a normal childhood from half human, half animal kids was seen through the lens of boys in the excellent “Luca,” while “Turning Red” is from the girl’s perspective. Instead of buying a Vespa, the girls need to raise money for the 4*Town concert. The band’s catchy pastiche of songs (if 90s boy bands can be such a thing) are by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connor and sung by an ethnically diverse band and is as close to a K-Pop band feel as a movie set in 2002 can muster. The movie, which is co-written by playwright Julia Cho, is the first Pixar or Disney movie directed solely by a woman and Shi does an excellent job in her feature film debut, blending different kinds of animation styles, while adding an engaging contemporary spin to the age-old problem: Parents just don’t understand. Waiting for the “Don’t Say Panda” law to be passed in Florida soon. 

7 Days (c) Cinedigm

Film: 7 Days 
In Cinemas 

The pandemic makes strange bedfellows in movies that directly reference it in its plot. Both “Locked Down” with Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofer and “Together” with James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan dealt with estranged couples who had to self-isolate together because of convenience. But the couple at the center of the charming and sweet “7 Days” is two strangers who went on a blind date the day the country shut down. Sparks do not fly for Ravi (Karan Soni) and Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan) who were set up by their parents. But because of the pandemic, Ravi is unable to get a hotel room, a taxi, an Uber or rent a car and thus, Rita reluctantly invites Ravi to stay, at first overnight and then a couple of days until he can leave. Ravi is a good Indian son, who has a good job and can’t wait to find a traditional woman to start a family. Rita, who Ravi sort of liked at first, turns out to be less than ideal match, as their unexpected time together in the same house slowly chips away from her façade. At first, the dread of spending time with people who don’t want to spend time with each other felt like a chore, but the actors are so naturally funny and charming that I started to enjoy their company. Viswanathan has the easier role of woman who is very relatable as she feels constrained from the role expected of her from her parents. But the bigger surprise is Soni as the conservative but always accommodating Ravi. He never makes Ravi condescending (well, at least not on purpose) and is able to elicit our sympathies by being immensely relatable. Director Roshan Sethi’s first film may feel schematic at first, but she does a good job making the couple’s interaction believably awkward. Where the plot goes was a bit surprising to me as it actually deals with the pandemic as a real thing rather than just a plot device. “7 Days” won the Best First Feature Award at the Independent Spirit Awards earlier this year, and it was well-deserved. There’s even a cute framing device that recalls “When Harry Met Sally…” That’s the vibe of this film, and it succeeds wonderfully.

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