PLOT A well-known author takes a cruise with family and friends.
THE CAST Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Lucas Hedges
RATED R (language)
WHERE HBO Max
BOTTOM LINE Steven Soderbergh’s light comedy-drama plumbs the occasional depth.
It’s hard to say whether there’s much to say about "Let Them All Talk," a seemingly trivial comedy-drama about a famous author trying to write a new novel on a cruise ship. It sometimes feels like one of Woody Allen’s throwaways, in which some of the finest actors alive — Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest and Candice Bergen — play out little scenes of comedy and pathos until the story reaches a tidy end. Then again, this is a Steven Soderbergh film, which means that deeper meanings might be darting beneath the glossy surface.
"Let Them All Talk" casts Streep as Alice Hughes, a brilliant, slightly pretentious novelist grappling with a case of writer’s block. Alice has just won England’s prestigious Footling Prize — it’s rarely awarded and exists only in this movie — and she refuses to fly overseas to accept. What about a cruise, suggests her young agent, Karen (Gemma Chan). To which Alice, sensing a chance to spend the publisher’s dime, replies, "Could I bring guests?"
So begins Alice’s working vacation with her nephew, Tyler (Lucas Hedges), and old friends Susan (Wiest) and Roberta (Bergen). They’re a mismatched crew. Roberta believes her marriage was wrecked when Alice turned it into the bestselling novel "You Always/You Never." Susan hopes to broker a peace between the two women. Tyler can be a bit of a dope, but he knows something the others don’t: Karen has sneaked on board and is hoping to peek at Alice’s manuscript.
Throw in two other appealing characters — a charming genre writer (Dan Algrin) and a handsome mystery man — and you have an odd little movie that’s feels like literary fiction set in the world of literary fiction (this is the first screenplay by short story writer Deborah Eisenberg). "Meta on the Orient Express" might have been a good title for this creation, in whcih the central mystery is whether Alice did indeed steal Roberta’s life. And is she about to do it again?
"Let Them All Talk" is part of a mini-genre of movies that might be unique to Soderbergh: loosely scripted, mostly extemporaneous, intellectually probing. (The others include "Full Frontal" and "The Girlfriend Experience.") Another possibility is that Soderbergh’s gorgeous cinematography and restless editing, both credited to pseudonyms, make this movie seem more profound than it really is. Either way, it’s a pleasure to watch.