By Christian DiMartino
Steven Soderbergh’s Let Them All Talk, released last weekend on HBO Max, is a movie that managed to hold my interest even though nothing was really happening. In this particular case, the film works for two reasons: one, because Soderbergh plants enough engaging plot seeds here to keep us wondering where exactly this is all going, and two, because he cast four dynamo actors to help anchor this ship. A ship that, perhaps in someone else’s hands, might’ve sunk.
The film stars Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen, three acting legends. It also stars Lucas Hedges, who may not be an acting legend yet, but who has earned his seat at the table and has been on a roll since his Oscar nominated turn in Manchester by the Sea. For some, they really might not be enough, because Let Them All Talk isn’t as focused on plot as it is with characters. For me, these characters and their actions were interesting, and what’s ultimately ironic about this film is that, despite its title, it’s what these characters aren’t saying that provides the intrigue.
Streep plays Alice, an acclaimed author who is set to travel to England to accept an award. Her… manager? Publisher? Anyways, one of those, named Karen (Gemma Chan) is also under the impression that Alice is brewing a new book, which could possibly be a sequel to her masterpiece (said masterpiece, Alice is no longer fond of). Trouble is, Alice cannot fly, due to fright or what have you, so Karen books her, along with her two college friends Susan (Wiest) and Roberta (Bergen) and nephew (Hedges) tickets aboard a luxurious cruise.
About 80% of the action in Let Them All Talk is set on this cruise, and sure, watching a bunch of rich white people party on a cruise might not be what we need right now. Yet I’ll be damned if Soderbergh doesn’t make us long for this kind of civilization again- it looks utterly fabulous. Anyways, early into the cruise, it’s easy to notice that something is up with Alice, Susan and Roberta. They’ve all decided to get on this cruise with one another, yet nobody really wants to spend time with one another. It’s easy to detect that something pulled these ladies apart, yet why would they agree to get together again? Is Alice’s novel about one of them? And who is the mysterious gentleman seen roaming around Alice throughout the trip? A lover?
If this doesn’t sound riveting, perhaps it isn’t. There is something sort of smooth in how it all plays out though. Let Them All Talk feels very relaxed, considering it’s a movie about tensions bubbling to the surface. It’s dialogue, a good chunk of which was reportedly improvised, has a natural feel to it. Again, it helps when you have four actors in top form to keep things afloat. Each actress here is just as strong as the other, and each is given enough time to make a splash.
Remember whenever Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring? Yeah, that was seven years ago, and he has since made five movies. Some pretty good (Logan Lucky, Unsane), others that definitely didn’t do it for me (The Laundromat, High Flying Bird). This is his best film since the excellent HBO movie Behind the Candelabra. I really liked this movie, and while it isn’t much of a movie, it was surprising to see how much of my interest this all held. Soderbergh provided his own cinematography here, as usual, and it should be said that this is worthy of Academy Award recognition. Not joking, Soderbergh manages to make the image of someone getting off an elevator look utterly gorgeous here, and then some, with rich, luminous colors that splash off of the screen. Thomas Newman should also receive his 16th (?!) nomination here for a score that is so good, you’d think you were listening to classic jazz.
With a movie like this though, it all depends on if it’s building to something interesting. While always interesting from my view, Let Them All Talk builds to a very genuinely surprising finish. Of course the specifics won’t be mentioned, but it makes the whole trip really worth while, and in ways that were right in front of our faces. This could’ve been just another slice of life type deal, but considering the magnitude of the talent involved, one could assume that there is more to Let Them All Talk than it leads on.