Let Them All Talk is about a novelist who is very secretive about her work, and especially her latest project. She's asked to attend an awards ceremony in her honor in the U.K., but doesn't like to fly, so her agency puts her onto the Queen Mary II for a crossing of the Atlantic. She brings along her two oldest friends and her nephew, Tyler. New literary agent, Karen, also is along for the ride, but in secret as she enlists Tyler in her attempts to find out the status of the new manuscript. Unfortunately, Tyler falls for Karen with no reciprocation, and the old wounds of the three friends are laid bare with a few layers to be peeled away after a shocking end to the trip. The film stars Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, Lucas Hedges, and Gemma Chan. The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Deborah Eisenberg. The film is streaming exclusively on HBO Max.
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most unique filmmakers working. Despite the fact that he's retired twice (at least) and has helmed a successful franchise as well as multiple well performing box office draws, he can still surprise. I would love to know how he decides to do a project because his last three have been wildly different, even down to the techniques he employs to make them. The most interesting aspect of Let Them All Talk, outside of the film itself, is that this was filmed during an actual working crossing of the Queen Mary II. The cast and (film) crew were guests aboard a famous ocean liner for the length of the voyage. It speaks volumes to Soderbergh's innovation and talent that he was able to make something so seamless with so many variables in play.
I know this is going to read as weird, I'll accept that, but I really love when I can see some of how things work, like a little behind the scenes and I think Soderbergh loves it too. A lot of the transition inserts, scenes without plot or actors to move from scene to scene, are of the inner workings of the ship. To know this is the real crew at work and doing what they do every day is enchanting. We see the beauty of the ship that customers see, and she is a grand dame for sure, but the chefs preparing a meal or the people working in the laundry are enthralling to me. Yet, this working beauty isn't surpassed by the beauty of the script.
Lately Soderbergh has chosen some really fabulous collaborators. Whether it was Terrell Alvin McCraney for High Flying Bird or Deborah Eisenberg for Let Them All Talk, he's been able to score some great scripts. Eisenberg's script is smart and funny, but it has a depth I couldn't have expected. It also functions in part as the mystery genre that Alice has little patience for. I like that we think we know everything, but there is so much to be unpacked. It's also always terrific to see a group of women over 60 getting to sink their teeth into meaty roles.
If I found one flaw in the film, it was with the love story element. I didn't find Tyler's clumsy pursuit of Karen all that interesting. It has little to do with the charm of either Gemma Chan or Lucas Hedges, more of the idea that it felt a little tacked on and obvious. Though, I did really enjoy the terrific scene in the planetarium as the camera goes from Karen's face, to Tyler's as he looks over and slowly pans down to Tyler's hands. The focus on the want to initiate intimacy, but the hesitance and lack of confidence was beautifully rendered by Soderbergh, who acts as his own cinematographer using the pseudonym Peter Andrews.
What I also love is the limitations of the ship. In not wanting to take over the common areas and be intrusive, the filmmakers created a great intimacy. This allowed for some of my favorite scenes between Bergen and Wiest. The two of them have a lot of their intimate conversations in a sort of board game corridor. They of them play chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, and Clue all as they try to understand why after all this time and all these years, has Alice invited them to do this trip with her. It's a great showcase for two very talented actresses.
Yes, it's true, I'm a huge Streep-o-phile and it can be said I've been a Bergen-ite on more than one occasion, but for Let Them All Talk I couldn't take my eyes from Dianne Wiest, which reinvigorated my Wiest-aholism. She is so good at the subtle, naturalism of her characters. In each of those board game scenes, she has the last laugh and she has the most intriguing stories, but as her character points out at the final meal on the crossing, she is with two of the most self involved people. Susan has become the friend that everyone wants to have around, but no one thinks about except as a sounding board for their own issues. It's a terrific and scene stealing performance.
I really enjoyed, Let Them All Talk. I found that I wanted more out of certain aspects and far less of others, but I was myself laughing out loud and marveling at Steven Soderbergh's true prowess behind the camera. If he ever does retire, it will be a great loss for innovative filmmaking. I think if you need a break from the holiday viewing, or if you want to see people enjoying a vacation like we won't be able to experience for many months yet, Let Them All Talk is a nice balm.