At this point in Meryl Streep’s career, it’s almost impossible for a script to be worthy of her stature and talent. Right behind her in this status are Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest. Unfortunately for these legends, their new movie, Let Them All Talk (HBO Max), doesn’t even come close.
This movie is set on board the ship Queen Mary 2, but unlike the lux liner, this story is meandering and adrift with no safe harbor in sight.
Every element and aspect of this movie is contrived. Meryl plays, Alice, an author in NYC who’s getting a prestigious award in London. We’re hit over the head with her work ethic when she laments the ‘early retirement’ of her agent at the age of 70. She insists she can’t fly (is this a John Maddenesque quirk? Oh.. the tension!) so she convinces her publisher to put her, two college friends and her nephew Tyler on a cruise.
Tyler (Lucas Hedges) has a pointless scene justifying to friends why he’s going on a free cruise. Susan (Wiest) hims and haws before agreeing to go while Roberta (Bergen), sensing a chance for revenge and security, jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, Alice’s new representative secretly books passage to get any insight into Alice’s next book, which is almost due. She somehow convinces Tyler to spy on the aunt he idolizes.
And that’s just the first act.
Everything’s On Sail
Usually this week of the year I, too, am on a cruise with a septuagenarian (my dad!), and even our 9am hair-of-the-dog cocktail on the balcony has more depth and flow than most of the conversations in this movie. The stars have said there was a lot of ad libbing on board. If any three actors can steer the ship on their own, it’s this crew, but there isn’t a sense of urgency.
And why is Tyler supposed to be the conduit to coordinate and soothe simmering tensions? While Tyler seems superfluous it is Hedges that benefits the most from being in this film. He gets a front row seat to the process of three amazing performers. Even with a wretched script (which this isn’t), you never pass up an opportunity like this.
Meanwhile, being on the ship is the best part. The group is confined to a degree but not joined at the hip. Director Steven Soderbergh uses close quarters to create intimacy then sweeping, airy above deck settings to give a us a feeling of freedom.
But there were so many underdeveloped subplots that I ended up not caring about anyone or any of their issues.
Alice’s mystery man who’s sneaking out of her room? Nope. Will Roberta take grievances to the grave after dying in the poorhouse? Don’t care. Why is there another world famous author on the ship? Apparently because every good cruise needs at least two popular authors lest we be considered savages. The predictable crush Tyler develops on Alice’s agent? I can’t even with this half-baked plot line.
However, awards season is upon us, and in a year with major releases pushed into 2021 or, in this case, moved into a crowded streaming universe, a strong cast and director may draw attention of voters away from tangents and inadequacies.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Golden Globes, adores all three of these stars. Who knows, Meryl could get two nominations if they love her in The Prom (Netflix). And the Oscars tend to nominate her if she sneezes in the background of someone’s selfie. (Who am I kidding? I’d totally watch that)
Dianne is good but her character, ultimately, doesn’t contribute to the main(?) plot as much as facilitates it. Candice has the meatiest role, but her Texas accent comes and goes and it’s a little odd.
So with no big releases jumping out at the public, this may have chance.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
As I imagine sitting on the balcony, listening to the waves go by, I recommend a Piña Colada with a topper of Myers Dark Rum. Remember: you can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning.