Steven Soderbergh’s new film “Let Them All Talk”, which was released on HBO Max in last December, simply enjoys being with a small number of colorful characters during its leisurely transatlantic cruise. On the surface, the movie seems to be just observing whatever is happened or exchanged among them, it constantly engages us thanks to its sharp writing, skillful direction, and enjoyable performances, and you will probably come to overlook its few notable shortcomings during the last act.
The screenplay by Deborah Eisenberg mainly revolves around Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep), an acclaimed middle-aged female novelist who has apparently struggled with her writer’s block as reflected by the very first scene of the film. For many years, Alice published a number of well-received novels including the one which actually garnered her a Pulitzer Prizes some years ago, but it looks like she has passed her prime at present, and she has also been pressured a lot by her publishing company, which has expected a lot from whatever she is writing at present.
During her meeting with Alice, Karen (Gemma Chan), who recently became her new literary agent after the predecessor’s departure, tries to check out whether Alice is really writing something good enough to excite her as well as the publishing company, but Alice remains taciturn as usual, and their conversation eventually moves onto the latest literature prize to be received by Alice in London. Because of some health condition of hers, Alice does not want to go to London by airplane for receiving that prize in question, so Karen suggests a transatlantic crossing between New York City and Southampton via the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, and Alice reluctantly accepts this suggestion.
However, Alice decides not to go alone by herself, and she makes rather unusual choices on her cruise companions. She contacts with her two old college friends with whom she has not corresponded that much during last three decades, and Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Diane Wiest) are understandably perplexed by the invitation from their old friend, though they all agree to accompany her while enjoying some luxuries during the cruise.
Another person chose by Alice is none other than Alice’s young nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who is also not so particularly close to his aunt either. He is surprised again when he is approached by Karen, shortly after he and her aunt and her two friends get on the Queen Mary 2. Assuming that Alice will probably continue to work on her new novel, Alice wants someone close enough to spy on Alice, and Tyler certainly looks like the right guy for this little job. Although he is not so eager at first, Tyler eventually agrees to spy on his aunt, and we subsequently get a little amusing moment as Tyler tentatively tries to get any hint from her aunt.
Anyway, it looks like Alice still does not find any good idea for handling whatever she is writing at present, and her mind seems to be drifting elsewhere from time to time. Whenever she is not chatting with her friends and nephew, she usually walks around here and there in the ship unless she spends some time in the swimming pool, and we come to sense something between her and a guy who happens to be around her more than once.
In the meantime, Susan and Roberta spend their free time in each own way, and Roberta is willing to try anything for meeting anyone who may get interested in having a relationship with her. As shown from the first scene of the film, Roberta has struggled a lot to support herself since her divorce with her rich ex-husband, and she also strongly believes that Alice used her old private life as a source of inspiration for that Pulitzer-winning book of hers, which was incidentally used as an evidence against Roberta during her subsequent divorce suit.
Because it is possible out that Alice’s current project is something to follow after that Pulitzer-winning book, Roberta naturally becomes more pissed off than before. Although Alice still does not talk much about her current project, it seems that she brought her two friends just for getting any bit of inspiration from them and their lives, and that eventually leads to Roberta’s blatant demand for the recognition and apology from Susan.
As still cheerfully gliding from one episodic moment to another, Eisenberg’s screenplay gets a bit thickened via some other plot elements. There is a possible romantic subplot between Tyler and Karen, and we also get some small laughs from the frequent appearance of a popular mystery writer, whom both Roberta and Susan prefer over some obscure 19th century writer to be introduced by Alice during a special literature event on the ship.
Although things get less interesting as the mood becomes suddenly rather melodramatic during the final act, Soderbergh, who also shot and edited the film for himself under pseudonyms as usual, keeps things afloat under his slick and competent direction, and his main cast members are apparently enjoying themselves on the screen. While Meryl Streep is much better than her shrill comedy performance in “The Prom” (2020), Diane Wiest and Candice Bergen remind us again of how wonderful they still are, and Lucas Hedge and Gemma Chan hold each own place well around these three great actresses.
In conclusion, “Let Them All Talk” is another small but efficient work from Soderbergh, who has steadily been going his own way during last two decades since winning the Best Director Oscar for “Traffic” (2000), The overall result is not that great, but it is still fairly commendable nonetheless, and I am willing to enjoy this richly entertaining cruise movie again.