Let Them All Talk, 2020.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Starring Meryl Streep, Gemma Chan, Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, Lucas Hedges, Daniel Algrant, and John Douglas Thompson.
A famous author goes on a cruise trip with her friends and nephew in an effort to find fun and happiness while she comes to terms with her troubled past.
Perhaps the first thing to notice about the latest from director Steven Soderbergh, Let Them All Talk, is not just Meryl Streep putting in some good work as she usually does, but that her delivery of words and body language feels improvised. That’s because the script from Deborah Eisenberg is actually just loose construction of the overall plot.
The opening scene sees a fictional famous author by the name of Alice (Meryl Streep) having a meeting with her agent Karen (Gemma Chan) discussing everything from accepting a prestigious award overseas in the UK to possibly finally getting around to crafting a follow-up to her most beloved novel. However, even the mere mention of the book elicits a reaction from Alice that suggests nothing but disdain for that story. Maybe that moment of body language was planned, but it certainly felt off-the-cuff and naturalistic. There’s plenty of moments like that here, although the experimental flick is rough around the edges and certainly overly long at nearly 2 hours.
Suffering from a frustrating case of writer’s block Alice agrees to take a cruise to the UK and accept said award while also using the change of scenery and relaxing environment to start chipping away at her next manuscript. Also aboard are a pair of longtime friends since college, the levelheaded lawyer Susan (Dianne Wiest) and the more outspoken Roberta (Candace Bergen). Both of her friends could use the break given that one is dealing with her 40-year-old son back at home whereas the other needs a break from stingy lingerie store customers. The catch is that these women, for as long as their friendship has lasted, are not necessarily on the best of terms.
Part of that puts a spin on the advice of writing what you know or what is around you, as Alice’s aforementioned most famous novel (apparently it was also turned into a fictional movie) heavily lifted from Roberta’s life, with the fallout sending her on somewhat of a trainwreck. One of the funnier bits of the movie sees her looking to hook up with wealthy men on the cruise while having Alice’s nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges) use basic tools of the Internet to check their social status and criminal records. It’s a betrayal that we are made aware of early on, and as much as I appreciate the film wants to say something about where stories come from and the moral limitations of real-life informing art, it takes too long to address any of it.
Let Them All Talk is a light hangout flick (at least until the out of place heavy ending) that is filled with three terrific female legends of cinema, but it also rambles. The kicker is that there’s a scene where one character takes aim at stories that do the same thing. To be fair, some of it is intriguing, namely the tiny mysteries that exist throughout and the jazz arrangements that accompany them. It also might sound weird to combine those two elements, but it does make sense given that a best-selling author of thrillers is also aboard the cruise which makes her another dynamic about writing. Oddly enough, the star of the show seems to be the aforementioned Tyler who comes along to assist the ladies and ends up developing a romantic attraction to Karen (who sneaks herself aboard in an effort to spy on Alice and see how the work is coming along). He also serves partially as a surrogate for us to learn more about the trio and writing in between giving Karen information. And to their credit, they do have one hysterical scene together.
It’s admirable that Steven Soderbergh is doing whatever the hell he wants lately (every movie seems to be outrageously different from the last while taking new approaches to filming), but Let Them All Talk feels like a premise being used as a justification to try out new filming angles with an iPhone (he does find some unique positions) and a sandbox for trying out new cinematic techniques rather than fully formed in terms of ideas. The experimentation reaches all the way to shots of food cooking in the kitchen documentary style that’s inviting in a hangout sense, which actually does work and will most likely leave viewers hungry.
Right when the film starts going somewhere, something else happens that feels unnecessary and tacked on. Lucas Hedges’ reacting to this moment also might be some of the worst I’ve ever seen for such a sight and I’m still blown away that they either didn’t shoot the scene again or intentionally used that take. It’s generally a treat to see Meryl Streep, Candace Bergen, or Dianne Wiest in any individual movie let alone the same movie, but Let Them All Talk has too much talking that is only engaging in spurts.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com