The beauty of "Let Them All Talk" is in its simplicity. Shot on a real cruise ship over a period of two weeks, the envelope-pushing director Steven Soderbergh set sail with some great actors at his disposal. Meryl Streep. Dianne Wiest. Candice Bergen. Lucas Heges. Gemma Chan. There was only an outline of a script, and most of the dialogue was completely improvised. Only natural light was used. There was a sound guy, and Soderbergh with his camera. "Let Them All Talk" was not just the name of the movie they were making, it was their mantra.
In lesser hands, this could have been a Titanic-sized disaster. But Soderbergh, with Streep as his fearless captain, steers this ship safely into port.
("Let Them All Talk" is available exclusively on HBO Max beginning 12/11).
Deborah Eisenberg is credited as the screenwriter on "Let Them All Talk," but really she's responsible for the loose structure of the film. A famous writer, Alice (Streep), is encouraged by her new agent (Chan) to travel to England to receive a very prestigious writing award. Alice doesn't like flying, so it's arranged that she'll set sail on a cruise ship across the Atlantic. She sees this opportunity to invite a few old friends along with her (Bergen and Wiest) as well as her nephew (Hedges). Her agent stows away on the ship, secretly intent on finding out what - and when - Alice's new book will be written.
Appropriately for this movie, a cruise ship does just that...it slowly cruises along. "Let Them All Talk" is not a speed boat, and for the most part it avoids choppy waters, choosing instead to enjoy and explore the calmer moments along the way. It simply takes its characters, puts them in a situation, and then let's the actors figure out how to handle themselves. The result is a film that might be a bit too talky for some, but it's quite impressive to see these actors, especially Streep, just act.
Because of the improvisational structure, the dialogue feels natural, and many of the characters feel grounded. It also can be distracting if you go in not knowing that this film was mostly made on the spot. Poor lighting, for example, in several scenes, will have you adjusting your screen settings. And not all extended conversations are all that captivating over the nearly two-hour trek.
But if you appreciate minimalist film production, or just need another reason to understand why Streep is known as the greatest actress of her generation, you will find yourself joyfully and willfully along for the ride...even if it never quite manages to take your breath away.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Gemma Chan, Dianne Wiest, Lucas Hedges, Candice Bergen.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh "The Laundromat," "High Flying Bird," "Magic Mike," "Contagion," "Traffic," "Erin Brockovich").
"Let Them All Talk" is available on HBO Max on Friday, December 11th, 2020.
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