‘Let Them All Talk’ Review: Streep and Soderbergh Take a Cruise
By Daniel Rester
The prolific Steven Soderbergh returns with Let Them All Talk, yet another film from him despite his supposed retirement from filmmaking in 2013. He’s directed five films and has worked on multiple television projects as well since then. And I hope he keeps going. When Soderbergh really retires we will be losing one of the prime voices in film.
Let Them All Talk is another low-key Soderbergh experiment, starring big-name actors but not playing like one of his more mainstream films. Here he echoes Woody Allen’s style in ways by allowing wall-to-wall dialogue and quirky characters to talk over each other. It’s all directed in a laid-back way and about the journey and the characters here, with plot momentum taking a backseat to relationship observations.
The film unfolds on the Queen Mary 2 cruise for the majority of the runtime (Soderbergh and the cast actually shot the film on the real ship, using natural light and minimal equipment). Meryl Streep plays Alice Hughes, an aging author who is writing a manuscript for a future novel. She is going on the cruise in order to accept an award overseas. Along for the adventure are her estranged friends Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne wiest), as well as her young nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges). Her literary agent, Karen (Gemma Chan), is also there as a sort-of spy in order to try and figure out what Alice’s next novel will be about.
While Karen and Tyler start to develop feelings for each other as they spy on Alice, Alice and Roberta both try to come to terms with their pasts; Susan is left as the voice of reason. Roberta believes that Alice’s most successful work was based on Roberta’s life, which Roberta never saw a cent for. With the new novel possibly being a sequel to that work, this causes some tension between the two.
The mostly-improvised dialogue (Soderbergh only used Deborah Eisenberg’s script as an outline apparently) flows perfectly at times and comes across as bumbling at other times. Despite the uneven nature, the actors remain entertaining to watch with their timing and word choices. They carve out real characters here and have natural chemistry in the conversations; Bergen is especially sharp as Roberta, who wants to land a rich man on the cruise. When Soderbergh isn’t letting the actors talk, he lets them play with nuance in their facial expressions as telling moments of people watching play out.
Though Let Them All Talk is a meandering hangout movie, Soderbergh still makes it appealing visually. He highlights all of the different parts of the ship and gives some of them more character with his angle choices; as usual with his recent projects, he served as the cinematographer and editor too. Thomas Newman’s jazz-infused music score, which is alternately bouncy and mysterious, helps with the relaxed form.
Let Them All Talk eventually gets out of the ship setting and provides some emotional punches that sneak up on the audience. I wish Soderbergh would have trimmed about twenty minutes of filler in getting there. Still, I didn’t mind the calm journey to get to the heavy destination for the most part. This is because Streep can make anything she does interesting, and she’s aided here by strong supporting players (Hedges, despite his youth, holds his own against the three acting titans).
If Soderbergh wants to pretend he’s retired by taking cruises and working at the same time, I’m for it. Let Them All Talk is another small gem with experimental filmmaking touches from him. By being in no hurry and focusing mostly on dialogue, the film won’t be for everyone. I was personally charmed by the cast and Soderbergh’s touches for the most part though. This is no Soderbergh masterpiece, but it’s a pleasant little piece.
My Grade: 7.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: B)
Running Time: 1h 53min