Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh turns a transatlantic crossing into three talented actresses in search of a script.
Mercurial, manipulative Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) is an acclaimed author who journeys to London to receive a prestigious literary award. Since she doesn’t fly, she’s booked on Cunard’s luxurious Queen Mary II and allowed to invite several guests to accompany her.
There’s resentful Roberta (Candice Bergen) to whom she hasn’t spoken in 30 years, along with their soft-spoken college buddy Susan (Dianne Wiest), as well as Alice’s adored nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who is supposed to look after the ladies during the day while his aunt dutifully works on her next manuscript.
Unbeknown to Alice, her new, young agent Karen (Gemma Chan) is also aboard, hoping to find out what the secretive novelist’s next book is about. And, coincidentally, there’s also a popular pulp mystery writer, Kelvin Kranz (Dan Algrant), lurking around.
Although the bittersweet outline is credited to Deborah Eisenberg’s short story, apparently Steven Soderbergh encouraged his cast to spontaneously improvise dialogue as each scene progressed. With a minimal crew, he filmed aboard a 2019 voyage from New York-to-Southampton on which many passengers were unaware of the film being shot.
Now there’s a reason that most ’pitch’ meetings start with a script, hopefully filled with witty dialogue. The screenwriter – who supplies the dialogue – is pivotal to the success of most movies. When actors are left to “improvise” extensively, more often than not, the results are stilted and disappointing. Spontaneity only works for a limited amount of time.
As usual, Soderbergh (The Laundromat, High Flying Bird) does his own cinematography and editing under the pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard. The result is a sketchy, bittersweet curiosity with an abrupt conclusion and unsatisfying epilogues.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Let Them All Talk is a fragmented 5. Abandon this ship of fools.