‘LET Them All Talk’ is the new movie of Steven Soderbergh who already declared some years ago that he’s retiring but obviously can’t just stay away from filmmaking. The movie has a formidable cast headed by Meryl Streep, but it’s actually more of a promo for the luxury liner, Queen Mary 2, as most of the movie happens inside the ship and, in the process, shows all its pleasant amenities that Soderbergh weaves into the narrative in all their glitzy grandeur.
The story is actually very thin and flimsy. Meryl plays an acclaimed New York novelist, Alice Hughes, who just won a prestigious British literary award for her work. Her agent, Karen (Gemma Chan, Astrid in “Crazy Rich Asians”), wants her to personally get the award but Alice has a mortal fear of flying.
Karen then suggests that she travels by boat and she asks if she could invite some friends to join her. Karen agrees and she takes along her nephew from Cleveland, Tyler (Lucas Hedges of “Manchester by the Sea”), and two old friends from college that she has not seen for decades.
First is Roberta (Candice Bergen), the one who’s not so successful and works as a salesgirl in a lingerie store in Dallas. The other one is Susan (Diane Wiest), a lawyer in Seattle who specializes on domestic violence. They all meet in New York to board the ship from there.
Karen herself joins them, but she doesn’t inform Alice about it. She plans to ask Alice about the new novel she is currently writing, about which she is very secretive. Karen is hoping she’d just write a sequel for her hit novel, “You Always/ You Never”, which Roberta insists Alice patterned after her life without asking her permission.
In the ship, Alice is asked to deliver a talk for its passengers that touches on artistic creation. She talks about her craft which she admits is inspired by the lives of the people around her, making Roberta more sure that Alice really got her novel’s story from her, even if Susan herself says she didn’t see any of her life story in Alice’s work.
She then asks Alice to interview her about what her life has been since they last saw each other and Alice can incorporate it in the sequel of the book that she is writing, but she demands to get compensation this time.
On board the ship is another writer, Kelvin Kranz (Daniel Algrant), the successful writer of popular mystery thrillers whose works have been filmed several times. Roberta and Susan confess to be his fans but Alice dismisses his work as pedestrian.
There is also a mystery in the film about a black guy that Tyler always sees coming out from his aunt’s room in the morning. He suspects her aunt is having an affair with the man, but there is a big surprise twist in the film and it will later be revealed what the purpose of that man in his aunt’s life is. We can’t reveal it as it’s gonna be a real spoiler.
The movie is actually some sort of experiment for Director Soderbergh. We read that much of the lines in it are actually mere improvisations of the actors themselves. There is a script but the lines of dialogue are adlibbed by the performers.
This becomes obvious as there are stilted lines where the actors seem to be very tentative. Spontaneity can work in a short skit, but for a whole movie, it’s rather disappointing. But since Soderbergh himself is the movie’s cinematographer and editor, he takes each scene from multiple angles to make sure he can edit scenes to appear consistent and undisrupted like they’re scripted.
Meryl is every inch believable as the primadonna writer and she’s well supported by Wiest, Chan and Hedges. But it’s Candice Bergen who stands out as the irrepressible Roberta for whom life has not been so kind. When we first saw her in “The Group”, the 1966 Sydney Lumet where she was introduced, we were so stunned by her beauty which is so radiantly stunning.
We became a fan and made sure we watched her succeeding movies like “The Sand Pebbles”, “Live for Life”, “Soldier Blue” and “Carnal Knowledge”. She has never won an Oscar (she was nominated as best supporting actress for “Starting Over”) but on TV, she won five Emmy best actress awards for her long-running hit show, “Murphy Brown”.
Her other memorable films are “Gandhi” and “Rich and Famous” with Jacqueline Bisset. Here, her best scene for us is when she tries to ask that a gift check be given to her be just converted into cash. She handled it with dignity, but her Roberta actually looks so pathetic.
As a film that explores long lasting friendships and the vagaries of literary creation, the film ends rather abruptly and things are left hanging in the end. As such, the film doesn’t make really much of an impact and Soderbergh has definitely done much better work than this before.