People didn’t really get excited about Let Them All Talk, the newish Steven Soderbergh film released on HBO Max. And even though I’ve seen every damn thing Soderbergh directed, I let it sit there, unwatched, for quite some time.
Now, it has been watched. By me.
And you know what? I quite enjoyed it. It is, in case you also let it drift past, a contained film about people. It is a film in which nothing much happens. There are conflicts that occasionally get addressed and even less frequently resolved.
Meryl Streep plays Alice Hughes, an important novelist who has climbed deep into her own rectum. She, winning a prestigious award, takes the Queen Mary 2 to England to accept it. For company on the journey, she takes her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges) and invites along her estranged college friends Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest). Her agent Karen (Gemma Chan)—new, and under pressure—sneaks aboard as well in the hopes of finding out something about Alice’s in-progress novel.
These characters rub against each other, the right way and the wrong way. Many of these scenes go nowhere, or float past slowly. Many begin in the middle and drop off before anything resembling denoumount. In Soderbergh’s pleasing way, they overlap and collide and create a montage of moments, more than a story.
Moments, in Let Them All Talk, do build. There is a destination, although it’s not really the one anyone was headed for—because it’s a film about drawing connections, even when those connections aren’t intentional. It’s a film about influences.
Meryl Streep creates a delightfully complex character in Alice, by turns loathsome and enlightened and helpless. Candice Bergen’s Roberta carries so much anger, with so much self-righteous import, that she should be recognized with some sort of specially-crafted cocktail. Or an award? Maybe an award, too. It’s been ages since I’ve seen Dianne Wiest in anything and I’d forgotten how wonderful she is. Understated but emotionally accurate. The Lucas Hedges / Gemma Chan subplot is more typical, but then its counterpoint sets off the story of the older women in ways that not only work, but feel soothing.
And then it ends and one is left feeling a bit perplexed and a bit pleased and a bit ready to talk. Because is it possible to connect that way still? To connect at all, even if that’s what you’ve set out to do?
The film, of course, looks great in that Soderbergh self-shot way. Misty, and evocative, and alive. And the editing pares away moments you’d expect in favor of those that you wouldn’t, and that’s a mood I found I wanted and maybe even needed.
I am reminded of why Soderbergh is among my favorite directors, and perhaps my favorite living director. All of his projects—with all of their varying qualities—try something. Sometimes those experiments work, and sometimes not. But he is curious. If you are likewise curious, you should give his stuff, and this film, a watch.