Review: 'Let Them All Talk' sees Meryl Streep set sail in rushed Steven Soderbergh comedy
Courtesy of HBO MAX
Adrift at sea on the Queen Mary 2, Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar winner behind “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic,” pins Meryl Streep against herself, Candice Bergen, Lucas Hedges and Dianne Wiest in “Let Them All Talk,” a dull comedic experiment that practically goes overboard.
In the last five years, we’ve entered the post-retirement stage of Soderbergh’s career where quality seems to dip, but the innovation in how it's made becomes the story. “High Flying Bird” made headlines for how quickly it was shot and edited (something around two weeks), “Unsane” was lauded for being the first movie filmed entirely on an Iphone, and now “Let Them All Talk” is getting notice because it was shot aboard a cruise ship (with real people prior to the COVID pandemic) in under 14 days with a mostly improvised script. While any excuse to get Streep, Wiest, and Bergen together in the same room is cause for celebration, Soderbergh, like the examples provided, seems more interested in how the movie is made rather than providing a fulfilling narrative experience.
Nonetheless, Streep plays Alice, a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist whose fears of flying prompts the publishing company to spring for her and three guests - friends Susan (Wiest) and Roberta (Bergen) and her loose cannon nephew Tyler (Hedges) - to set sail on the open sea. Also sneaking aboard the voyage is Alice’s literary agent Karen (Gemma Chan) who's keeping tabs on the elusive writer, hoping to coax information out of Tyler about the much anticipated manuscript her company is desperate for. There’s hidden subplots (Tyler and Karen’s not so secret affair is interesting enough), friendly quarrels, and shady people leaving Alice’s room each morning to afford plenty of hijinks for Soderbergh to dig into, but none of it gives the characters any redeeming qualities nor is there much to root for.
It’s not the actor’s fault. With only a loose script outline to guide them, “Let Them All Talk” leaves the cast stranded. What Soderbergh does well is capture the intimacy on the cruise-ship and the tumultuous relationships that brew not only among the quartet of performers, but surrounding patrons as well. Except the entirety of “Let Them All Talk” feels rushed, and scenes between Streep and Hedges (obviously improvised) linger far longer than anyone would need to endure, hinting as to why, at a nearly two hour runtime, the film runs out of steam.
Bergen seems to be having the most fun as a greedy Texan prying into Alice’s past affairs looking for a handout, meanwhile Chan and Hedges make the most with their flimsy, but rewarding scenes, Wiest gets to say “Bow down, Bitch” over a game of Scrabble and Streep is almost satirizing herself. There’s an elegance to the presentation, and the rush of watching “Let Them All Talk” unspool in real time might help audiences stick around and see where the ship docks. Not to mention, a late, third act twist practically reshapes the film’s perspective in a manner flattering to what came before (though it doesn’t save the lackluster energy).
“Let Them All Talk” quite literally lives up to the title and Soderbergh made exactly the film he wanted too: One that challenges himself as a filmmaker and us as the viewer. It’s tempting to recommend because the trio of season veterans yapping it up and dishing tea is the mantra 2020 could use, but the long slow patches in between lengthy monologues, an ending that doesn’t feel earned, and an ace filmmaker using HBO Max’s money to flaunt an experimental comedy leaves plenty unsaid.
LET THEM ALL TALK debuts on HBO MAX Thursday, December 10th.