Review: Let Them All Talk (2020)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Deborah Eisenberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen, Gemma Chan, Lucas Hedges
Genres: Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Release Dates: 12/10/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 53min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Oscar Nomination(s): Possible–Supporting Actress (Bergen); Long-Shot–Original Screenplay

I was interested in seeing Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Let Them All Talk, and not just because it features three legendary actresses, but also because I’m a fan of some of Soderbergh’s previous work, such as Erin Brockovich. Also, I was curious to see how the cast handled the mostly-improvised script; screenwriter Deborah Eisenberg provided brief outlines and biographies for the actors, in addition to a few scripted scenes. Sure, all of the actors do a fine job with their improvised and scripted scenes, but it doesn’t add up to much of anything. 

Almost the entirety of the film takes place on a cruise ship — specifically, the Queen Mary II, and the cast truly spent two weeks on the ship, engaging in various activities and having meals together. The actors’ ability to not fully inhabit their characters in this way is admirable, but I didn’t feel invested in the characters — even when [minor spoiler] a tragedy befalls them in the third act. If the characters had been better developed, then I might have felt an emotion other than “meh.” 

There are certainly some interesting moments and scenes between the characters, and you get a sense of their relationships to one another, but not enough. Even the ending is disappointing,  despite the actors’ best efforts. Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen all bring their seasoned acting chops to the table, although Streep’s role here is her least interesting one in years. Wiest is surprisingly funny and wild, although she also isn’t given much to do. It’s Bergen who does most of the heavy lifting, and ends up being the film’s emotional center, despite the fact that the story’s unevenness makes this hard to believe. Still, it would be lovely to see her squeeze into the Best Supporting Actress race; she has one particularly fabulous scene with Streep towards the end that displays her dramatic acting chops.

Gemma Chan and Lucas Hedges are also solid, especially in their scenes with Streep — Hedges has a tendency as of late to portray sons/nephews of Oscar winners like Frances McDormand and Julie Roberts — although their romantic relationship (which, spoiler alert, doesn’t go as Hedges’ character would like) feels extremely forced and unbelievable. It’s not the age difference [approximately a decade], but rather the lack of chemistry and the awkward interactions between them. 

I kept waiting for something truly amazing to happen in this movie, because with such an esteemed cast and director, that’s what I’d expected. The editing is also fairly choppy at times and doesn’t always make sense. And, let’s not forget the weird, jazzy score that doesn’t seem to go with the story or scenes at all. This makes the tone of the film even more difficult to ascertain, and I can’t say for sure whether it’s a comedy, drama, or even a dramedy. There are few comedic, laugh-out-loud moments, and the drama felt forced. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay to see this in a theater, and I’m glad for that.