[Screen It]


(2020) (Meryl Streep, Candace Bergen) (R)

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Drama: A self-absorbed author invites her nephew and her two college friends from long ago on a cruise to determine how those women feel about her.

Alice (MERYL STREEP) is an accomplished author whose newly promoted agent, Karen (GEMMA CHAN), has been tasked with finding out when her latest manuscript might be ready. Considering that the author is set to receive a literary award in London but doesn't fly, Karen arranges for Alice to sail aboard the Queen Mary 2 from New York. The author's only request is that she be allowed to bring along her young adult nephew, Tyler (LUCAS HEDGES), as well as her college friends from long ago -- Susan (DIANNE WIEST) and Roberta (CANDICE BERGEN) -- who she hasn't seen in decades.

While looking down on prolific mystery writer Kelvin Kranz (DAN ALGRANT) -- who's also traveling on the ship -- Alice wants Tyler to determine the states of mind of her friends from long ago. As he does that and starts to fall for Karen who he meets for the first time, Roberta searches for a man with money all while blaming her failed marriage and life after that on the belief that Alice based one of her past works on her and her life.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

While I've never written a novel, I've written (but not sold, alas) several screenplays as well as a few one-act plays. And in writing those, I've drawn inspiration and material from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, things I've witnessed firsthand or through other sources; people I know, have known or have observed; my imagination; and my thoughts, feelings and more.

When done correctly -- and purely from a fiction standpoint rather than a "based on" or "inspired by" true-life reality -- such an assorted combo hides the exact inspiration of the work and the characters within it. But the reason you always see the disclaimer at the end of films about any similarities to living or dead people being purely coincidental is that certain folks -- whether honestly or, more often than not, some sort of derangement -- end up believing such works are about or at least based on them.

Such is the case within the story of "Let Them All Talk," a, natch, talky drama where the bitter character played by Candace Bergen believes that an earlier work by her former college friend (Meryl Streep) not only was based on her, but was also responsible for her subsequent divorce and substandard life following that.

All of that and more plays out in writer Deborah Eisenberg's script that's been brought to the screen in a reported guerilla and improv filmmaking style (meaning fast and inexpensively) by director Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Erin Brockovich" and the "Ocean's" trilogy, among other works).

Clocking in at just under two hours, the film is intended for audiences who aren't in a hurry for the plot to move along at any sort of rapid-fire pace or with twists and turns galore. That's not to imply it's slow or boring.

On the contrary, and despite the simplicities on the surface, I found it to be an engaging and natural feeling work about jumping to conclusions without all the necessary facts in place and the effect that can have on both those taking those leaps of logic and others who have that applied to them.

The story revolves around Streep's character, Alice, an award-winning but pretentious author who has a newly promoted agent in Karen (Gemma Chan) and a desire to collect a literary award from her peers in London. As she doesn't fly, Karen proposes that she sail on the Queen Mary 2 from New York and the auteur agrees, as long as she can bring along a few people.

One of them is her young adult nephew, Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who's quite close to her and who she trusts to determine the mindset of her other guests. They are Roberta (Bergen) who's now relegated to searching for any man with money who can support her (as she works as a lingerie sales associate) and their other friend from college, Susan (Dianne Weiss), an advocate for women in trouble with the judicial system.

The tone is set right away when Alice tells her college buddies that she won't have much time for them during the transatlantic crossing, despite or probably because of not having seen them for decades. Instead, she wants Tyler to figure out how they feel about her, all while Karen wants him to determine the status of the author's latest manuscript. That leads to them spending more time together and him developing romantic feelings that may or may not be reciprocated.

That's all while Roberta stews about Alice's past treachery, Alice looks down on the far more prolific mystery writer Kelvin Kranz (Daniel Algrant) and Weiss' Susan enjoys the cruise while repeatedly talking Roberta down from sending an iceberg into the hull of the trio's long-ago friendship.

The film moves along about as quickly as the QM2 parts the waters of the North Atlantic, but with Soderberg in the "I'm the captain now" seat and the veteran performers doing their thing for him, it's smooth sailing for the offering from departure to the end credits arrival.

Despite a few moments that seem to go off on their own tangents -- presumably from the filmmaker letting the actors improvise -- it's an enjoyable cruise where everything simply feels natural. And for that and the rest of its qualities, "Let Them All Talk" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 11, 2020 / Posted December 18, 2020

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