In Brief: Let Them All Talk is all talk and not all that interesting talk. Great acting from the participants but the movie just isn’t that interesting.
I suspect part of what got the actresses and actors involved in Let Them All Talk is the location. A couple of weeks lounging around on the Queen Mary 2 on its way to England and doing a bit of acting here and there had to be fun.
Filmmaking legend Steven Soderbergh directed. Wiki says he did the film on the cheap. Soderbergh handled most of the camerawork and cinematography. Maybe he, too, saw this as a working vacation.
His film looks that way.
Meryl Streep — Wiki also says — got paid $25 for playing author Alice Hughes. She’s past her prime and looking to write that last, great novel. In fact, Alice has been paid and the publishing company wants that book.
It’s not done. Not even close.
A deal is cut to have Alice do some speaking on the QM2 in exchange for passage to England. During the trip she’s to finish the book. Part of the agreement allows her to bring her nephew and two of her best pals from college. The nephew is done by Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Boy Erased). Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest play Alice’s friends.
Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) plays the literary agent who schemes with the nephew to get info on the book.
The screenplay is written by actress and first time writer, Deborah Eisenberg. When you break it all down, the outline of the plot is Eisenberg’s. The Oscar winning Soderbergh (Traffic) bagged much of her dialogue and told the actresses and actors to wing it and ad-lib their way through the story.
It sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
Bergen’s Roberta is ticked at Alice. She may or may not have been the subject of Alice’s hit book. That book destroyed her life. Roberta now sells lingerie and is struggling. Most of her time on board is spent trying to land a rich guy and a better life.
Acting as a mediator between the two is Dianne Wiest’s, Susan.
Rounding out the plot is a relationship between the agent and the nephew. A popular author who churns out crime novels in bunches is also on the ship and is a thorn in Alice’s side.
Soderbergh’s movie is billed as part comedy and part drama. It’s not really all that funny nor is it all that dramatic. All that works is the acting. Streep is amazing as the frosty Alice. She’s a snob who uses her education and former success as a shield to keep others at bay.
Streep is so good that you can almost see the icicles hanging from each line of dialogue.
The film’s best acting belongs to Bergen. We know her best from TV antiquity and her character Murphy Brown. Bergen won Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe. Some of us remember Bergen more from the exceptional acting she did early in her career in films like Carnal Knowledge.
Bergen is also the best ad-libber of the bunch and seems to be having more fun with her character than the others. Of the three actresses, Bergen seems the most real. She perfectly plays a bitter, gold-digging woman whose did you or didn’t you, and you owe me, exchanges with Streep are priceless.
The soft spoken Wiest — like her two co-stars — is also quite good. She plays Susan as a peacemaker and a kind and patient friend.
Let Them All Talk is a showcase for three very, very good actresses and relative newcomers Hedges and Chan. No doubt, they and Soderbergh had a lot of fun doing this one. Other than watching some great acting, it’s too bad none of the rest of us will have all that much fun.
As a movie, this sets sail with a lot of promise, quickly hits choppy waters and sinks.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, Gemma Chan, Lucas Hedges, Dan Algrant, John Douglas Thompson
Rated R for language and mature themes. If you love great acting from very good actresses then don’t miss Let Them All Talk. I loved the acting and it’s the only reason I can recommend the movie. Give this one a 3 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
You can stream Let Them All Talk on HBO Max.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.