Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest make for a fun ride in Steven Soderbergh’s cruise-set movie following an acclaimed author inviting her friends on a voyage.
Imagine being on a luxury cruise where Meryl Steep is also there, just casually hanging around, occasionally shooting scenes from a movie. The thought kept striking me during Let Them All Talk, a film where the conditions of production loom heavy on the narrative, threatening to overshadow it. Most of Steven Soderbergh’s latest film (now out on HBO Max) was reportedly shot on a two week Atlantic crossing of the Queen Mary 2.
Deborah Eisenberg’s script (the acclaimed short story writer’s first) follows Alice (Meryl Streep), a once-celebrated author who is convinced to journey to England to receive an award. Secretly her agent, Karen (Gemma Chan), endeavors to find out if Alice is working on a sequel to her prize-winning novel; without Alice’s knowing she comes on the cruise.
To accompany her, Alice invites Susan (Dianne Wiest) and Roberta (Candice Bergen), former pals who have gone their separate ways, as well as her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges). As the voyage progresses, old wounds begin bubbling to the surface.
The result is a film that’s light on its feet, but with a lot on its mind. Another writer on board prompts discussions of art versus entertainment. Karen’s attempts to probe Tyler for information create delightful chemistry between the two actors. Let Them All Talk’s setting is a springboard of gorgeous vistas and interesting locations. The gives off a simultaneous feeling of freedom and confinement. The fact of the film’s production becomes less of a gimmick as the characters inhabit their roles with a certain freedom that feels much looser and more alive than typical studio productions.
The central trio of aging blonde women are a delight to watch; the movie’s meanders are never less than pleasant. When Roberta’s resentment for Alice becomes more prominent, Bergen plays the character with the quiet grievance that is all the more effective in contrast with Streep’s Streepisms.
Soderbergh has created the anti-“Jack and Jill.” Far from your traditional Cruise ship commercial, Let Them All Talk uses the setting to craft an engaging film where promotion is limited and instead a radical way to make a film outside of the Hollywood system. Let Them All Talk is slight at worst, but never not enjoyable. I wish for an anthology series where Soderbergh and Meryl make a film on a different form of transportation each year.
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