Aristotle is quoted as saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” but that adage doesn’t always apply when it comes to movies. A case in point is director Steven Soderbergh’s (HIGH FLYING BIRD; UNSANE; LOGAN LUCKY) latest film. With its superstar cast, LET THEM ALL TALK should be a total winner. Instead, it’s pretty average.
In the film, Alice Hughes (three-time Oscar® winner Meryl Streep, LITTLE WOMEN; MARY POPPINS RETURNS; the MAMMA MIA! films; FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS; AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who is working on her next novel. Her agent, Karen (Gemma Chan, CAPTAIN MARVEL; MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS; CRAZY RICH ASIANS), is trying to glean from her whether this will be a sequel to her much-celebrated work, “You Always/You Never”, but Alice is keeping her cards close to her chest. When Karen suggests that Alice take the Queen Mary 2 to the UK to collect a prestigious literary award, Alice agrees on the condition that she can bring a few guests along with her. With that, Alice invites her two best friends from college – Susan (two-time Oscar® winner Dianne Wiest, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS) and Roberta (five-time Emmy® winner Candice Bergen, HOME AGAIN; TV’s MURPHY BROWN and BOSTON LEGAL) – women she hasn’t seen in 35 years – and her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges, HONEY BOY; BEN IS BACK; THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI; LADY BIRD; MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), who will act as her personal assistant on the voyage. Unknown to them, Karen also boards the ship and she secretly strikes up a friendship with Tyler in hopes of learning more about the manuscript. While Susan uses the opportunity to reconnect with her friends, Roberta remains sceptical about Alice’s motivations. She believes that Alice wants to pump her for information about her life to use as fodder for the new book. Tyler, meanwhile, starts to notice a man coming from the direction of his aunt’s room every morning.
While the performances are exactly what one would expect from such feted actors, LET THEM ALL TALK somehow doesn’t have much punch. The problem may be that the real star of the film is the QM2. If we wouldn’t have our covid reality right now, the film could easily be used as a marketing tool by Cunard, the ocean liner’s operator. Cinematographer Peter Andrews, who is really Soderberg himself, deftly captures all the wonder of this floating resort, with its bars, restaurants, well-appointed staterooms, bookstore and planetarium in all its luxurious glory. He even cuts away from time to time to the ship’s galley and other staff areas where passengers only venture when they get lost, as Alice does on one occasion. Because Soderbergh shot the film on his iPhone, a technique he has used for some of his more recent entries, he was able to move about the ship with ease. It’s so natural that one has to wonder if some of the passengers were even aware they were being filmed. (I’m sure they all must have signed blanket waivers.) There’s one scene where Roberta is chatting up a monied businessman and I don’t think the man was acting.
The three women all bring their A-game to the production and they deliver with Bergen doing her best work in… ever? Hedges is very good too. There are scenes he has with Streep where you can see he’s learning from her while he’s acting. The film’s title really says it all though: They talk. A lot. The problem, unfortunately, is that even with all the talking, they don’t do a lot of talking to each other. Instead, they talk at each other. As a result, we don’t get very deep into Alice’s head and even at the film’s end we’re left wondering why she even wanted to get together with Susan and Roberta after all the years. She says she wants to reconnect with old friends but does she really? Roberta blames Alice’s success for her own less-than-successful life but we are never sure if that feeling is justified, or if Alice knows or even cares.
While Bergen may get an Oscar® nomination out of this, I doubt the film will garner many other accolades. That being said, LET THEM ALL TALK is still enjoyable fare and worth checking out. It is streaming now on HBO Max where available.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 8th, 8:30 am HK time!
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