Kind Words About Let Them All Talk

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.

17 responses on “Kind Words About Let Them All Talk

    • Lucas Hedges is kind of cute? Meryl Streep wears a bathing suit? Candice Bergen’s character sells lingerie?

      I guess that’s a no.

    • Not his best, but also better than I expected. Kind of Magic Mike / High Flying Bird level; about character with just enough story to allow you to invest. Much better than Logan Lucky or Unsane.

  1. Hi Guys hope you’re well. Not watched ths but was thinking about Soderbergh a couple days ago. Side Effects and Unsane were both great. I like that he was leaning into Hitchcock. I’ve not watching Logan Lucky either, got some catching up to do.

    A friend watched this and said it’s good, wil have to check it out.

    • Mash! Long time, man. Welcome back. Hope you’re well, too. I thought this one was better than Side Effect, Unsane, or Logan Lucky, all of which had their merits but felt… not fully baked? I have been meaning to rewatch High Flying Bird, though, which was—like Let Them All Talk—quietly great.

      • I have a massive soft spot for Hitchcock so I tend to like anything that apes him even slightly.

        I loved High Flying Bird. There was just the one scene at the dinner table that I though the main actor didn’t quite nail.

        I love how Soderbergh is just doing his own thing. Feels to me like anyone coming up now is quickly gobbled up and making Marvel movies or Star Wars movies instead.

        • Yep. Pretty sure Soderbergh is my favorite living director for exactly that reason. His films are not always great, but they’re always HIS FILMS.

          • trying to think of who else falls into that bracket.

            Jim Jarmusch and Sofia Coppola come to mind but they both have set styles to a degree. Soderbergh is always surprising.

            I would have said Rian Johnson too but looks like Knives Out will be a franchise. I did enjoy that a lot though.

            • I was keen on Shane Carruth, but then he turned evil. I had hopes for Rian Johnson, but he lost me with Looper. Still got a hard eye on Ben Wheatley. And there’s the Coens, but still: going with Soderbergh.

  2. So I watched The Laundromat a couple of night ago and I just finished Let Them All Talk.

    Less said about The Laundromat the better.

    Let Them All Talk was wonderful though.

      • My favourite bit in Let Them All Talk was the scene when Gemma Chan’s character is talking to Lucas Hedge’s character and she is caught by Meryl.

        She is describing a movie I love (mainly because of Audrey Tautou) so I recognised it immediately. It’s a French RomCom called Priceless. Worth a watch, it’s a charming movie.

        I was left wondering whether Gemma Chan likes it or Steven Soderbergh.

  3. watched Logan Lucky a couple of weeks ago. I almost turned it off about 30-40 mins in but I thought the second half was pretty good.

    Hilary Swank is so stiff though.

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