The newly released HBOMax film Let Them AllTalk is a story about three once-close friends of a certain age who haven’t seen each other since college. When they have the chance to reconnect on a cruise many years later, we see that not all friendships–even very good ones—are meant to last forever.
The film was shot on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, the same ship Jerry and I had sailed on, now about a decade ago. So it was a thrill to see the vessel again and get onboard vicariously. Although the ocean liner has been updated since we sailed, it still retains the same classic elegance and old-world ambiance we remembered.
Watch the trailer of Let Them All Talk
The characters of Let Them All Talk
One of the women, Alice (played by Meryl Streep), has reached the pinnacle of career success as a novelist but it doesn’t seem to be quite enough to make her self-assured.
She has been invited to London to accept an important literary award and is hesitant to make the trip because of her reluctance to fly across the Atlantic. Her young agent, Karen (played by Gemma Chan of Crazy Rich Asians) comes up with the idea of getting her to the event in England aboard the Queen Mary 2. Mary will “pay her way” by giving a talk on the ship.
Alice is able to wrangle free tickets for her long-time friends, Roberta (played by Candice Bergen) and Susan (played by Dianne Wiest) to accompany her on the cruise. She also brings her nephew Tyler (played by Lucas Hedges of Manchester by the Sea) along to entertain them so she can spend time working on her next novel.
Much of the screenplay’s dialogue, which was written by Deborah Eisenberg and produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, is improvised, drawing upon the wealth of talent of this star-studded cast.
Roberta is resentful that her friend Alice has used the story of her failed marriage as the storyline for her best-selling book. Susan, now a doting grandmother, tries to mitigate the uncomfortable conflict between her two friends.
Almost from the time the ship leaves the pier, viewers can sense the tension and feelings left unexpressed each time the threesome is together. Clearly, their lives have diverged and it’s unclear whether this journey will bring them closer together.
The film drifts along pretty slowly but there’s an unexpected twist at the end if you maintain your sea legs. The acting and casting was superb but it was the setting more than the story that snared me.
A crossing isn’t a cruise
Our crossing on Queen Mary 2 from Southampton, England to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York City took us six days. There was so much to see and do on the historic ship that there was hardly time to write a blog post—let alone a book. Having no ports of call along the way encourages rest and relaxation and should have offered a perfect venue for friends to reconnect, if it was to be.
One of the nicest things about taking the crossing in this direction we took is that you pass over five different time zones, gaining one hour more of sleep (or activity) with each one. If you live in New York, you don’t have to worry about packing your trip mementos for flight; you can stow your purchases in your cabin and carry them off the ship when you disembark.
The making of the film
When the film’s producer, Gregory Jacobs, and director Soderbergh approached Eisenberg with the idea of Let Them Talk, the concept was quite skeletal, only a sentence or two about a group of women in their 60s and 70s taking a trip on the Queen Mary 2. Eisenberg wasn’t daunted.
“The idea of making a movie, using the boat as a set, was so exciting that, of course, I immediately became enthralled with the idea!,” she says. “Steven is so adventurous and so courageous artistically, that I knew I wanted to be on this journey with him.” Eisenberg created an outline and suggested the direction the narrative would take.
When the group snagged Meryl Streep to play the lead, it seemed like everything was likely to fall in place. But even the superstar admitted to having had some pre-performance jitters. “I was terrified and intrigued by a film shot so fast in such a confined location—the middle of the ocean!,” she said in the HBO production notes. Also of note, the movie was shot on an actually crossing with real passengers.
If you love cruises—whether or not you’ve been on the Queen Mary—you’ll love the idea of getting onboard this magnificent vessel. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused chaos in the hospitality industry overall but cruising has probably taken the hardest hit and still has an uncertain trajectory. Until the infection is mitigated and vaccines are widely available, we are going to stick to virtual cruises like the one offered by this well-acted, easy-to-watch comedy. My guess is that like us, Let Them All Talk will leave you pining to return to the high seas again.
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