Let Them All Talk is the latest film from Steven Soderbergh. Meryl Streep plays Alice Hughes, a novelist who is traveling to London on the Queen Mary so that she can accept a literary prize. Accompanying her are two friends from college, Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest), both of whom have far less glamorous lives than Alice’s. Roberta is also still angry because she feels that Alice used details from Roberta’s life in one of her novels.
Also on board the Queen Mary are Alice’s nephew, Tyler (Lucas Hedges, who overacts to such an extent that it’s almost as if he’s daring the Academy to take back that nomination for Manchester By The Sea) and Karen (Gemma Chan), who is Alice’s new agent and who is trying to figure out what Alice’s next book is going to be about. (Karen hopes that it’ll be a sequel to her first novel, the one that was full of details stolen from Roberta’s life.) Though Alice keeps insisting that she wants Tyler to keep Roberta and Susan entertained while she works on her latest book, Tyler is far more interested in getting to know Karen.
The film was shot on the Queen Mary, while the ship was actually making the voyage across the Atlantic. Though the actors had a story outline, the majority of the dialogue was improvised and Soderbergh essentially just sat in a wheelchair with his camera and followed the actors around. In short, this is a film that you probably could have shot, the only difference being that you probably wouldn’t have been able to get Meryl Streep to agree to appear in it. I’m tempted to say that the story of the production is actually more interesting than the film itself but, to be honest, Steven Soderbergh shooting an improvised film isn’t that interesting. Soderbergh’s always had a weakness for gimmicks like improv. You may remember that, decades ago, he and George Clooney insisted on trying to produce largely improvised television shows for HBO. Though the shows got a lot of hype before they premiered, both K Street and Unscripted mostly served to prove that improv is often more interesting in theory than in practice.
That’s certainly the case with Let Them All Talk, which is one of the most mind-numbingly dull films that I’ve ever sat through. I think the assumption was that Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest would automatically be interesting to watch no matter what they said but it doesn’t work out that way. Meryl Streep, in particular, is so excessively mannered that she comes across like a retired drama teacher playing the lead in the community theater production of Mame. Candice Bergen does a bit better but Dianne Wiest is stranded with a role and subplot that seems almost like an afterthought. In the end, the film just isn’t that interesting. The “just start filming and see what happens” approach has its limits.
To be honest, as I watched Let Them All Talk, I found myself wondering if maybe Steven Soderbergh was deliberately trolling everyone by seeing how bad of a film he can make before critics stop reflexively praising everything that he does. Let Them All Talk currently has a score of 89% at Rotten Tomatoes so Soderbergh still has a ways to go.