Written by: Deborah Eisenberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Gemma Chan, Lucas Hedges, Dianne Wiest
Interpretation of art varies on the beholder and the way they experience the piece in question. It mixes one’s personal feelings and utilizes the product in a way where they can even see themselves in ways the author may not have intended. This idea becomes integral to the relationships working in Let Them All Talk, as the writing process gets called into question with a collection of unattached people stuck in a place where they cannot fully escape each other’s presence.
With the due date of her manuscript approaching, Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) has been put on a luxury boat to England to accept an award in London. On this trip, she invites two long-time friends, Roberta (Candice Bergen), Susan (Dianne Weist), and her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges). The four of them have time to explore the boat on their own but meet every night for dinner to enjoy each other’s company. As each of them has their own storyline, everything ultimately rests on Alice completing the manuscript and what it means for the quartet and her agent, Karen (Gemma Chan).
Traveling in luxury has been adapted to trains, planes, and even in modern boats used strictly for transportation purposes as shown in this film. If anything, its greatest feature comes from the boat they took, which departed from New York and docked in England. A luxurious vessel with so much going on that made me want to turn off the movie and actually take a trip to England through this means of transportation, but I decided not to because the film raises some interesting interpersonal issues going on with this longtime trio of friends.
Alice has established herself as a successful author with her works being recognized for their brilliance and complexities, which gets challenged when she learns about her friends’ adoration for the works of mystery novelist Kelvin Krantz (Dan Algrant). As a writer, who focuses more on the quantity of output than Alice would prefer, he becomes a stand-in for a bevy of contemporary authors who do not get the respect of writers of the protagonist’s ilk but certainly rake in the money and popularity from his fanbase. With Alice having to wrap up her manuscript, this trip does not necessarily feel like the fun time it presents the others as she keeps a rigid schedule of when she works on the writing and then releases herself to have dinner with her guests. Similarly, Roberta has this distaste for Alice because of the way her most popular book got interpreted. Roberta sees the arc of the character as a representation of her with how her life followed the same footsteps of losing her man and the source of money she became accustomed to. She spends the majority of the time on the boat trying to find another rich man to provide for her and finally confronting Alice about the impact the book has had on her life.
These two perspectives receive most of the narrative attention as they get set for a collision of the minds and emotions because the writing of Alice has impacted them more than any other characters in the story. Alice struggles with what this new work will be amid the expectations of the publishers to hopefully do a much-anticipated sequel to her book she loathes the most while Roberta needs to get a definitive answer about the author’s inspiration and its eventual impact. The iciness between them remains for a good portion of the film as they barely speak throughout even with the title indicating the opposite. Everything sits right on the surface and it gets felt by both Susan and Tyler at their dinner gatherings.
With a healthy blend of legendary actors and rising stars, Steven Soderbergh finds a strong balance in giving these characters things to do in this story. While Alice and Roberta get the complete arcs, the others go on their other adventures with each star giving a decent performance. Gemma Chan, as Alice’s literary agent, continues to prove she deserves meatier roles because she chews up what she received here easily. Chan has built the cache to receive something she can carry, as she walks a fine line with this character with the goals and purpose she serves. Everyone else came to play as well with the story being dialogue-heavy, as Meryl Streep refuses to disappoint.
Amid all of its stronger aspects, by the end of Let Them All Talk, the emotional landing point does not quite stick the landing. It felt like something remained missing in the narrative, which may be part of the point but still did not provide the level of satisfaction all of the preceding dialogue needed to fully justify its story. Yes, something of note occurs but it feels a bit empty at the end as the characters return to their normal lives.
With all that being said, this film still has its entertainment value for people who enjoy dialogue-heavy movies. What they talk about on the boat carries great intrigue as it moves to a variety of topics, which includes artistic integrity, quality, and pure honesty between friends. This will certainly hit differently for anyone who works as a writer, as they can place themselves in the different emotional points of Alice’s journey on this boat. Overall, an enjoyable feature but not something near the top of the list of the work done by all of the talent involved.