Give Steven Soderbergh credit. In his 30-plus-year career behind the camera, the former Baton Rouge director still surprises.
If a gambler told me, "Soderbergh's next movie involves three grandmas on a cruise ship," I would've scoffed. Yet, here I am, writing about the filmmaker's latest, low-key drama, "Let Them All Talk."
Now available on HBO Max, "Let Them All Talk" isn't merely about old timers taking one last vacation. True to form, the one thing that doesn't surprise is that Soderbergh's movies are never that simple.
On the surface, the film revolves around a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Alice Hughes (played by Meryl Streep). The recipient of a prestigious writing award and with a new manuscript due, Hughes brings her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges), and two friends, Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest), along for the ride.
Hughes' mysterious new novel is apparently about "catching lightning in a bottle for a second time." Her agent, Karen (Gemma Chan) hopes it's a sequel, but Hughes is battling writer's block, among other ailments.
Without giving too much away, "Let Them All Talk" is about ulterior motives. Each character longs for something, but can't directly communicate those emotions. As is his talent, Soderbergh pulls at these characters' secrets at a thoughtful pace.
Instead of exposition, the movie is full of side glances, furrowed brows and clapbacks. We know Hughes longs for a legacy because of her stilted, self-important delivery. Tyler wants to fall in love because he's a goofy college sophomore who carries around a copy of "On the Road" and discusses humanity with the motherly Susan. We know Roberta wants a sugar daddy because it's the first question she asks a potential suitor at the ship bar.
How it all unravels is what makes "Let Them All Talk" a joy to watch. These characters aren't bungee jumping or making bold statements. These women are falling out of touch with each other, unable to grasp the events of their final get-together. What should be a last hurrah is a heartbreaking obligation where each character walks on egg shells.
If you're looking for a crowd-pleaser, "Let Them All Talk" ain't it. However, if you've followed Soderbergh's career to this point, you'd know that the smaller-budget, more-adult drama is something he flirts with before making another hit. For every "Ocean's Eleven," he'll make a "Solaris"; for every "Logan Lucky," there's an "Unsane." Some viewers are probably still upset that his "Magic Mike" wasn't as fun as the Gregory Jacobs-directed sequel "Magic Mike XXL."
I can't guess what Soderbergh will do next. What I can say, with confidence, is that "Let Them All Talk" is another fascinating feature from a filmmaker who is always willing to roll the dice.
'LET THEM ALL TALK'
STARRING: Meryl Streep, Lucas Hedges, Candice Bergen, Gemma Chan and Dianne Wiest
DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
NOW AVAILABLE: On HBO Max
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 53 mins.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted) Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For language
**** (Excellent), *** (Good), ** (Fair), * (Poor)