All three female leads of "Let Them All Talk" have worked with Woody Allen, which is appropriate since this comedy feels like a Woody Allen movie, minus the toxic misogyny and tortured sentence structure.
Meryl Streep plays a full-of-herself Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who, afraid to fly, has agreed to take the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic to give a speech in England.
She brings two old friends, a peacemaker (Dianne Wiest) and a grump (Candice Bergen) who believes one of Streep's novels ruined her life. Also along for the ride is Streep's nephew (Lucas Hedges), whom all three women use to spy on each other.
As the title hints, it's a chatty movie. The characters gather in their staterooms or at dinner to rehash grievances, dig for details about Streep's new novel or mack on the ship's eligible bachelors, including a bestselling mystery novelist for whom Streep does not bother to disguise her contempt.
Now streaming on HBO Max, this is fairly low-stakes stuff, although its script — credited to Deborah Eisenberg but apparently improvised by the cast in two actual weeks on the ship — introduces small conflicts to keep the boat/movie chugging along.
In addition to curiosity about the next novel, Streep's agent has dispatched a minion to persuade the author to write a sequel to her most popular book, about which she is also contemptuous.
If it weren't called "Let Them All Talk," "Contempt" would be an appropriate title for this film. Streep is a great sport, diving so recklessly into her character's pretentiousness that she seems to be making fun of herself as well as a certain kind of snooty novelist who earns more prizes than sales. Having announced at the start that she'd like to use the journey to reconnect with old friends, she appears to ignore them as much as possible on a craft where, eventually, everyone runs into everyone else.
Director Steven Soderbergh utilizes the same light touch that animates his "Ocean's" movies. There's drama happening but his real interest is the human detail: how Streep reacts when Bergen too quickly turns down a dinner invitation; Hedges' embarrassed expression when he misjudges a romantic possibility; Wiest's exasperated concern when, over board games, Bergen refuses to forget slights of the past. It's subtle stuff but fans of the septuagenarian trio of leads will have fun.
If you're up for taking the trip, you're rewarded with satisfying developments that reveal "Let Them All Talk" is more than the tossed-off bauble it appears to be. Once it was over, I wanted to go back and re-watch the whole thing to see what Soderbergh is telling us by choosing to isolate certain characters in the frame or pairing others up. Visually, it's a trickier movie than it initially appears to be — which is to say that it's not all talk.
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Let Them All Talk
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language.
Streaming: HBO Max.