Steven Soderbergh loves to be on the cutting edge of cinema. For better or worse, he just doesn’t do things the easy/normal way. Whether it’s being his own cinematographer and editor, shooting films on an iPhone, or any number of other ventures, Soderbergh does his own thing. For his latest feature, the pseudo-surprise (at least in terms of it being shot) Let Them All Talk, he’s tackling the subject matter of adult female relationships. Having famously handled the more lurid side of things, this is a surprisingly tame flick, right down to it being nearly a bore. As much as it’s an interesting outlier in his filmography, it’s lesser Soderbergh and only succeeds due to the cast.
Let Them All Talk draws on the talents of a cast led by Lucas Hedges and Meryl Streep. Either of them working with Soderbergh would be intriguing on its own, but both of them? That’s definitely a way to pique ones interest. Unfortunately, it’s not work to write home about for any of the three, even if the acting part is more on the successful side. The cast ultimately end up propping up Soderbergh here, but it’s touch and go for a while.
For a retired (or previously retired) man, Soderbergh sure keeps busy. Since stepping away from directing, he’s made such projects as The Knick, Logan Lucky, Unsane, and High Flying Bird. One thing you can never accuse him of is resting on his laurels. All of those couldn’t be more different from each other, with Let Them All Talk being the same way. Regardless of if you’ve enjoyed them or not, Soderbergh is certainly unafraid to try something new.
Renowned author Alice (Streep) is meeting her new literary agent Karen (Gemma Chan) when we first encounter her. Informed of an award being bestowed upon her in England, she’s honored by loathe to fly. Karen has a workaround, suggesting the Queen Mary 2. Alice agrees, provided that she can bring her nephew Tyler (Hedges). Plus, she requires the presence of her two college friends, Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest). Her publisher is desperate to find out if she’s writing a sequel to her most famous book, so the request is approved, with Karen tagging along discreetly.
On the ship, it becomes clear that the old friendship dynamic has changed. Alice states she won’t have much time for the two of them, while Roberta brushes off requests for a private drink with Alice. It seems that she thinks that one of Alice’s books was based on her, more or less ruining her life. As Karen recruits a lovestruck Tyler for information, the friends try and figure out a new dynamic. It isn’t until they dock in England that we truly understand why Alice wanted everyone on this excursion with her.
What saves this film is the charm of the cast. Meryl Streep is restrained and nearly regal here, though arguably under-utilized a bit. No one will mistake this for her other 2020 work in The Prom. On the other hand, Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest are having a ball, lending the flick most of its appeal. So too does Lucas Hedges, with his younger vibe and eagerness. He’s less quirky than in the upcoming French Exit (which is a worse film and also has a long section on a boat) Gemma Chan doesn’t quite fit in as cleanly, mostly advancing the plot. Occasionally, she’ll have a good scene with Hedges, but she’s somewhat superfluous. The best scenes depict Bergen and Wiest playing games and being catty. Those are a delight.
Steven Soderbergh utilizes the cast well enough, but his pacing is fairly slack. His editing here is not up to snuff with his directing and cinematography. Likewise, Deborah Eisenberg‘s screenplay (though, again, the cast improvised a bunch here) largely goes in circles until the third act. Eisenberg’s point is hammered home then, and it’s actually rather effective, but it’s a floated film. It may be nice to look at, complete with a solid Thomas Newman score, but for nearly 90 minutes, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere. Then, all of a sudden, it does, and thank god.
Let Them All Talk just barely gets a passing mark from me. Frankly, until the final act, I hadn’t been able to see what everyone else has seen here. Then, it clicked a bit for me. Still, this is lesser Soderbergh and not destined to be revisited anytime soon. If you’re looking for an adult dramedy with a mellow vibe, you could do worse. Faint praise, but that’s all this one is able to engender from me. Alas.