Let Them All Talk is Steven Soderbergh's new movie, a quiet delight that shows he's not ready to retire from movies just yet. It's an elegiac, almost nostalgic movie that they don't make anymore, which might be why he decided to make it.
Meryl Streep plays Alice Hughes, a world-famous novelist who's been invited to accept an award in England but can't fly, so she talks her publishers into paying for a trip there on the Queen Mary 2. She takes her nephew Tyler, whom she adores, and invites her old college friends Roberta (Candace Bergen) and Susan (Diane Wiest) along for the 8-day cruise. Her new agent Karen (Gemma Chan), secretly tags along, hoping to find out if Alice is writing a sequel to the novel that made her a household name and enlists Tyler as her eyes and ears.
There's a casual feel to the movie as the characters play out low-key dramas on the ship. Roberta has been simmering with resentment that Alice got rich and famous writing about their lives while she's gone through an unsatisfactory life of divorces and low-end jobs. Susan has her own life and work and doesn't really care that Alice wrote about them in her most famous book but has to play mediator between them. Tyler falls in love with Karen, but that infatuation might be one-way. Alice is self-obsessed, grand, and oblivious to all this as she struggles to write her next book. Everything comes to a head but not in an explosive way. These are adults, and this is life, Soderberg seems to be saying, not a melodrama.
Soderbergh enlisted acclaimed writer Deborah Eisenberg to write the story. The actors improvised their lines throughout the movie aside from a few pivotal scenes that were scripted. The movie feels like Soderbergh is making a European movie – the character talks about books and literature and life and how they feed into each other. It's low-key and funny, like a good Woody Allen movie without the snobbery, arthouse pretensions, or creepy sexual undertones. It's also reminiscent of an Eric Rohmer movie where the characters explore their lives through conversation, but where Rohmer's characters talk to lie to themselves about who they are, Soderbergh's characters talk to understand each other, even if they don't always get very far.
It's odd and nostalgic to watch Let Them All Talk in the Pandemic. The QM2 serves as a bubble the characters play out their little stories on like a pre-pandemic world before everything falls apart. Nobody is going to think about getting on a cruise ship for a while because they were Petri dishes for infection even before COVID. Then the characters emerge from the bubble, and life happens. A change comes, and everyone has to figure out how to move forward from there.
Let Them All Talk is now streaming on HBO Max.