The 400-Word Review: Let Them All Talk
By Sean Collier
December 11, 2020

Let Them All Talk

It’s difficult to convey why “Let Them All Talk” is such a remarkable film.

It certainly is remarkable, to be clear; it’s delightful and compelling, a secret mystery wrapped in a blunt comedy. But categorizing it or quantifying its successes is a tall order, I think, because it is primarily a victory of control.

It is confrontational without being bombastic, clever without being hackneyed, indulgent without being gauche, tense without being trying, literary without being removed. In short: eminently controlled.

That tight grip is administered by a fine pairing of director and writer. Steven Soderbergh helms one of his best films in years, displaying his mastery of staging and pacing; writer Deborah Eisenberg, primarily a short-story author, turns in perfect characters and a wonderfully plotted tale.

I’m delaying the plot, because “Let Them All Talk” is more than the sum of its story beats. In brief: author Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) is headed to the U.K. to accept a literary award, but she won’t fly. Her new agent, Karen (Gemma Chan), gets her a sweetheart deal on a transatlantic cruise ship; she agrees, if she can bring her obsequious young nephew (Lucas Hedges) and a pair of estranged friends (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest) along for the journey.

One of those friends may or may not have been the unwitting subject matter of Hughes’ best-selling novel, a friendship-disrupting offense they’ve never truly addressed. Meanwhile, Karen needs Alice to turn in a new book, and has quietly booked herself a spot on the vessel to see how things are going.

There’s a bit of farce — or, perhaps, drawing-room mystery — in the setup, but “Let Them All Talk” has no interest in going down either of those familiar routes in its presentation. Like many very good recent films, this is essentially genre-free; it is a story well told, uninterested in signifying itself with thematic trappings.

It is also, in what is so expected as to barely warrant affirming, a feast of great performances. Streep performs with, well, Streep-ian aplomb, and Hedges nails a very specific sort of quarter-life pretension. Chan also shines. It’s Bergen, however, who distinguishes herself; in a fearless and focused turn, she goes toe-to-toe with the great Meryl and emerges victorious.

An ending that feels more than a bit unearned dings “Let Them All Talk,” but only slightly. It’s an immensely enjoyable, and refreshingly refined, film.

My Rating: 9/10

“Let Them All Talk” is streaming on HBO Max.