Halfway through this movie my wife said, “This is like if women did those ‘The Trip to Italy’ movies.”
Well, this was written by short story author Deborah Eisenberg, with some additions from director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s 11, Out of Sight, etc), and unfortunately, a lot of improvised dialogue. Perhaps the title “Let Them All Talk” was a working title because of the improv style. The problem is that it all feels rather lightweight, which is a shame, considering this might be the best cast we’ll see in a movie all year.
The story is about a big cheese author named Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) who goes to England to receive a prestigious award. She convinces her agent Karen (Gemma Chan of Crazy Rich Asians) to let her bring her two college friends. What’s great is who those friends are, because in the beginning, looking at Streep’s face…I wondered if I had grown tired of seeing her on screen. Yet when I see one of those friends, Susan, is played by Dianne Wiest — it was a thrill. Her expressions and the way she acts on screen is always a joy. In this, listening to her talk about a 3-way she had with a college professor and his wife, had me in stitches.
The other college friend is the estranged Roberta (Candice Bergen). They haven’t spoken in decades, and she’s ready to leave her job as a sales person in a lingerie store in Texas, to find a man with money. But as she explains to Susan, she sells bikinis to rich old guys buying them for their young girlfriends. To them she’s like old, rotten meat. And yes, as you’d expect, Bergen steals the show.
Alice also brings her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), who cracks us up by always saying “Have a good one” upon parting with anyone. He ends up having a lot to do. Roberta wants him to Google men she meets on the cruise. Karen wants him to secretly find out if his aunt is finished with her book, and if it will be a sequel to her best seller.
There’s a fun segment that features a best selling crime author named Kelvin Krantz (perhaps a dig at Dean Koontz). He’s played by Dan Algrant, the director who gave us the disappointing movies Greetings from Tim Buckley and Naked in New York, and apparently works better as an actor.
Krantz has fans hounding him for autographs and gawking at him, and the two ladies with Alice love his work as well. She scoffs at writers that pump out popular pulp novels. It’s interesting how his character is written. He’s not stupid, or a jerk. In fact, when he asks Alice a question during a speaking engagement, it’s about her less popular book that she’s more proud of. And the expressions on Streep’s face as she has to subtly show how thrilled she is by the question — made me question why I thought I was tired of seeing her. She’s just such a damn great actress.
At one point, my wife said of the Queen Mary II, “That thing is huge.”
I replied, “Well, they’re probably not really filming it there.”
Then I found out they spent two weeks on that ship, during a cruise, filming it with real passengers walking around.
The conversations sometimes feel forced, and it grows tiresome hearing one character complain about how her life was ruined by Alice’s book. The whole script felt like a first draft, and you want to be more engaged in the proceedings. Watching this movie is a lot like some of the entertainment you see on a cruise. It could be a comedian, magician, or a band playing covers. It might not be entertainment you’d pay top dollar to see, but when out to sea, it’s serviceable and you didn’t waste two hours. And how can a movie with legends like Wiest, Bergen, and Streep not be at least worth a peek?
You can catch this now on HBO Max.
2 ½ stars out of 5.