Let Them All Talk

  • 02 Jan - 08 Jan, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

There’s an awful lot going on in this new movie from Steven Soderbergh. The title is appropriate: it’s garrulous, elegant, bristling with classy performances from an A-list cast, and Deborah Eisenberg’s screenplay has a theatrical intimacy. But it’s loosely and waywardly plotted, perhaps as a result of having gone through many drafts, though maybe not enough. It is slightly unfocused and uncertain as to where its emotional centre really lies – though there is a charm and a big dramatic finale.

The story is mostly set on a luxury liner, the Queen Mary 2, crossing from New York to Southampton. Meryl Streep plays Alice Hughes, a renowned novelist whose reputation and sales rely chiefly on a sensational early book about the collapse of a woman’s marriage. Her agent (Gemma Chan) takes her out for lunch and has to charm her cantankerous client into going to London to accept a prestigious award.

Alice agrees to the trip but very grandly declares that she cannot fly, so her cowed agent suggests the ocean liner alternative, with Alice giving a lecture to get a freebie. Alice agrees, but only if she also gets tickets for three other people: her adored nephew (Lucas Hedges) and her two best friends from college, Susan (Dianne Wiest), a high-flying lawyer, and Roberta (Candice Bergen), who sells lingerie in a department store. Things get tense when it becomes clear Roberta is convinced that Alice’s great first book was actually about her, and that the book destroyed her life. Moreover, Alice’s agent has also sneaked on board, to keep an eye on her author – and Alice’s nephew is beginning to fall in love with her.

Let Them All Talk has two emotional registers. For the older generation, it is the rather wan but droll language of worldly regret, managing the anxieties and disappointments of old age. And Alice and Susan, despite their material achievements, are not free of these. Nor is Roberta.

The younger generation is represented by Alice’s agent and her nephew. There is the opportunity for real passion, real excitement and real heartbreak in this farcically contrived pairing, but it fizzles out and Soderbergh and Eisenberg cut their key conversation before it ends.

All in all, Let Them All Talk is a voyage of adventure, but not really of discovery.