Let Them All Talk

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Let Them All Talk Movie Poster Image
Drama about aging author lacks kid appeal; language.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You betray those you love in the hope of forgiveness. If you can't keep a secret yourself, you can't ask anyone else to. 

Positive Role Models

Alice is self congratulatory, condescending, and pretentious, but thinks she's generous and big-hearted. Roberta is angry and feels wronged. Susan is overly optimistic but also impatient with nonsense.

Violence

Someone dies peacefully.

Sex

A man tries to make advances on a slightly older woman, but she isn't interested.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Let Them Talk, Steven Soderbergh's 2020 drama, explores old friendships and the nature of artistic creation, but probably won't hold enormous interest for kids or teens. Meryl Streep plays a respected literary figure in her 70s who invites college friends she hasn't seen in 30 years on a transatlantic crossing, a voyage that uncovers memories and festering grievances. Sex as a motivation and fundamental of life is referenced, and language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch."  Someone dies peacefully. Adults drink alcohol. Mature themes frame this story, suggesting teens old enough to understand what's going on probably wouldn't find this very entertaining.

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What's the story?

LET THEM ALL TALK finds aging writer Alice (Meryl Streep) heading to England to accept a literary prize. Unable to fly, she agrees to cross by ship and invites two old college friends along on the trip, neither of whom she's seen in 30 years. (Director Steven Soderbergh shot the film on an actual Queen Mary 2 crossing.) Roberta (Candice Bergen) sells lingerie in a Texas department store. She's divorced and childless, bitter, and strapped for money, nursing a grudge against Alice for stealing the sordid details of her personal life which, when revealed in Alice's popular book, ended Roberta's marriage and supposedly ruined her life. Susan (Dianne Wiest) is a Seattle social worker who believes in moving on and has little patience for either Alice's self importance or Roberta's obsession with the past. Lucas Hedges plays Tyler, Alice's nephew, an awkward and charmless companion who's secretly enlisted by Karen, Alice's new agent, to spy on his beloved aunt. Karen's boss wants to know if Alice's new manuscript is a sequel to her most successful book or something more literary and less saleable. Conflicts arise as the ship sails on.

Is it any good?

Meryl Streep is one of the great actors of modern film, and it's a joy to watch her do and say just about anything. That said, Let Them All Talk feels like what happens when friends get together and make cake from a mix rather than from scratch. The outcome is tasty enough, but better ingredients and perhaps a greater investment of time might have yielded a more delicious treat. Streep and her magnificent castmates Wiest and Bergen have reported they improvised their lines from the story originated by Soderbergh and mapped out by writer Deborah Eisenberg. Although rigorous discipline was clearly necessary to complete this film in only a few weeks of shooting, it still feels as if a well-written, dialogued script would've improved the flavor and texture of this confection enormously. Even so, Bergen's dry delivery and expert comic timing bring Roberta vividly to life. Plus, any artistic exploration of the complex emotional lives of people in their 70s is welcome in a youth-dominated culture. Yet, closer scrutiny by a writer's eye would have revealed the weakness and implausibility of a disposable subplot involving Alice's new literary agent, who comes along on the crossing for an utterly indefensible reason. And why does Alice try to connect with friends she hasn't seen in 30 years? She wonders why the estranged friends agreed to come on the cruise , but never reveals the solution to the greater enigma, why did she invite them after so many years? Why does she repeatedly ask only one of them to meet in private? Finally, the ending is almost amateurishly abrupt and, given the fact that it involves the main character, strangely devoid of any emotional impact.  

In the past, making a film has required huge amounts of funding, equipment, personnel, sets, and locations, so it was impossible for cinema artists to just noodle around in the medium, the way Picasso could dash off a pencil sketch. But now equipment, streaming, and editing apps make it possible for artists to less expensively whip up cinematic equivalents to sketches and we should be glad of it. Not every film must be a masterpiece. Soderbergh is a gift to the film world, talented, visionary, stimulating, and willing to take risks, but with every risk comes a range of possible outcomes, from greatness to failure. This falls between, and there's no shame in it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how a feeling of festering anger can inhibit progress. Why do you think Roberta holds Alice responsible for her misfortunes?

  • How do you think Alice views the negative effects her writing has had on her old friend? Does she dismiss them? Do you think she's rationalizing her actions to avoid guilt, or do you think she did nothing wrong?

  • What responsibility does a writer have to those she writes about?

  • What does the movie say about the nature of long friendships? How do friendships endure over many years when people change significantly from the way they used to be?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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