PLOT: An author goes on a trip with her friends and nephew in an effort to find fun and come to terms with her past.
REVIEW: Steven Soderbergh movies come in two flavors. On one side, you have his mainstream fare like Erin Brockovich, the Ocean’s trilogy, and Magic Mike. On the other, Soderbergh toys with the conventions of filmmaking by shooting on iPhone (Unsane), creating interactive experiences (HBO series Mosaic), and even doing period pieces (Cinemax series The Knick). The opposite approach to filmmaking from the meticulous Christopher Nolan (read this interesting article about them for more), Steven Soderbergh pumps out multiple films a year and rarely are two of them alike. His latest effort is Let Them All Talk, a movie that lives up to its title, starring a cast of iconic actresses as they explore their friendship and the repercussions of their choices.
Let Them All Talk reunites Soderbergh with Meryl Streep who starred in his previous movie The Laundromat. Here, Streep plays a very different character. Alice Hughes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who has won a prestigious award. Afraid to fly, her new editor Karen (Gemma Chan) puts her on a cruise to England. Alice takes the chance to reunite with two old friends, Roberta (Candace Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Weist). Roberta is single and looking to land a rich husband on the cruise and holds resentment towards Alice. Susan works with parolees and has a long history with the other two. Alice also invites her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges) who ends up being drawn into the various shenanigans and subplots involving the three friends as well as Karen who is trying to convince Alice to pen a sequel to her least favorite novel.
Evoking the character-driven films of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen, Let Them All Talk was shot over two weeks on the Queen Mary 2 with Soderbergh serving as director, cinematographer, and editor. A lot of the film is spent showing the characters walking around the ship and partaking in various activities but the movie is far from a commercial for the Cunard line cruise. Soderbergh provided the cast with a story outline by Deborah Eisenberg and set them loose to improvise the majority of the movie. There is a very natural feel to the film which helps because at just under two hours, Let Them All Talk is a fairly long movie. Still, using natural light and the setting of the ship (which was in the middle of an actual cruise at the time of filming), Steven Soderbergh manages to make this feel cinematic and yet completely effortless.
A lot of that credit is due to Streep, Weist, and Bergen who are all fully invested in their characters. Conversations shift from past betrayals to future plans and discussions on the creative process itself and become utterly fascinating to observe. Meryl Streep, whose talents are used more broadly these days in films like The Prom or Mama Mia! is incredibly subtle here and makes Alice Hughes a realistic character rather than another role. While a lot of the film pairs characters with one another or sends them on individual moments, when all three share the screen the movie shines. Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan also make great use of their screen time as they weave in and out of the events surrounding the three main characters.
What is evident in this film is that Steven Soderbergh wanted to try something that could have easily not worked. He needed strong performers who were willing and able to improvise as much as he was prepared to do behind the camera. Everyone in this cast is up to the task and the finished movie is not nearly funny enough to be considered a comedy nor is it serious enough to be looked at as a drama. There are really no stakes to the story and yet it works. In many ways, this film seems like a stage play brought to screen and that may be more of a credit to the improvisation of the performers more than anything. The biggest shortcoming comes with the ending which doesn’t really match the rest of the film.
With a breezy score by Thomas Newman, Let Them All Talk is a light piece of entertainment. It is definitely not going to be for everyone. I can also say watching a film set aboard a cruise ship (filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic, of course) filled me with a desire to go on a vacation. Steven Soderbergh manages to turn what could easily have been a boring slog of a movie into an enjoyable diversion. Let Them all Talk easily feels like you are slipping into a familiar story you have seen before even if it doesn’t offer any major insights. If anything, this movie proves that Soderbergh’s talents can be put to exceptional use even in the most minimalist circumstances as he makes a story about three septuagenarians feel as interesting as a story about drug trafficking, pandemics, or revolutionaries. You will likely not remember much about Let Them All Talk once you finish the movie but you will enjoy the journey.
Let The All Talk debuts December 10th on HBO Max.