Cruise aficionados, film lovers, and Meryl Streep–worshippers alike all got a pleasant 2020 surprise today with the release of Let Them All Talk, HBO Max’s new film starring Streep, Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, and a relatively inexperienced, 79,300-ton, young starlet by the name of Queen Mary 2.
Filming primarily took place on a Cunard transatlantic crossing in August 2019, with director Steven Soderbergh utilizing Queen Mary 2’s paying passengers as extras and taking the film’s title to heart by having the more-acclaimed thespians improvise much of their dialogue. “If you have a story that is well worked out and planned,” he says, “and you have the right performers, there is an energy that comes from each actor not knowing exactly what the other actor is going to say that results in a very heightened listening response and therefore a heightened scene.”
The original screenplay finds Alice, a flight-averse Pulitzer Prize winner, embarking on a journey to accept a prestigious award in the U.K., work through some writer’s block, swim at 3 o’clock every afternoon, and visit the gravesite of a beloved author whose written thoughts and experiences were, as Alice explains during an onboard lecture, a miracle that could “reach across time and reach into my consciousness.”
Every Alice pronouncement is a similarly insightful delight (perhaps by the sheer force of being delivered by Meryl Streep), and the friends tagging along for Alice’s transatlantic trek include Roberta (Candice Bergen), seeker of men and men-with-money who resents Alice for turning her lowest moments into literary gold; Susan (Dianne Wiest), their referee-at-sea and, on land, an advocate for women who need help speaking up; and nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), absorber of all the wise words these women impart in the prestigious Queens Grill restaurant, in Alice’s luxurious two-level suite, and beyond.
Viewers who miss cruising will ache for the friendly games of Scrabble played beside an oversized porthole, sympathize with accidental wanderings into crew area, and generally swoon over the gorgeous ship scenes … not to mention grimace with every reference to Queen Mary 2 as a mere “boat.” But from the start, it’s the transcendental possibilities of words and stories that are of the utmost importance to Let Them All Talk.
Boat vs. Ship is eventually addressed — as is Cruise vs. Crossing — and the Cunard crossing depicted here serves the film beyond just being a glamorous floating background that sets (and sometimes steals) a scene. The crossing propels a plot focused on storytelling and the way words, experiences, and their resulting miracle can cross time and generations. In adding further energy to the very delivery of those words, Soderbergh discovers something as unique and ultimately spellbinding as his filming location.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments below!