Steven Soderbergh's Let Them All Talk stars Meryl Streep as an author taking her oldest friends on a trip across the Atlantic.
Dan Slevin: Last week I mentioned that there are a few local on-demand video rental offerings, from the likes of Academy Cinemas in Auckland and Aro Video in Wellington. Businesses like those have been hard hit by the lockdowns as in-person entertainment dries up and product is delayed.
Both have a very similar selection - although as you might expect Aro Video has a strong catalogue of classic movies along with the more contemporary titles - and Steven Soderbergh's experimental, improvisational, chamber comedy Let Them All Talk is available on both.
It's about three friends who take a trans-Atlantic crossing together on the Queen Mary 2. The trip is organised by Alice, a successful author, played by Meryl Streep. She has to go to England to pick up a prestigious literary prize but can't fly for medical reasons. She's also seriously writer's blocked and her new agent, Karen (played by Gemma Chan) is nervously awaiting a new manuscript.
To help unblock her, she invites two of her oldest friends: Susan played by Dianne Wiest and Roberta played by a razor-sharp Candice Bergen and also her nephew Tyler played by Lucas Hedges to act as her assistant on the voyage.
There's going to be a reckoning involved at some point as Roberta and Susan believe that Anne took details from their lives for her earliest most successful books, and then out of guilt perhaps drifted out of touch with them. They believe that they haven't been invited on this voyage to rekindle old friendships but to reveal what has happened to them over the last 30 years so that Anne can finish her sequel to the original book.
Meanwhile, Agent Karen is also secretly on the ocean liner trying to glean details of the new book so that she can save her own career.
Coincidentally, another well-known author is on the trip - who knew that New York to Southampton by ship was still so popular. He's suave thriller writer Kelvin Krantz whose books outsell Anne's by a significant factor and who clearly doesn't have a problem with writer's block.
Let Them All Talk is a film about friendship and what happens when you don't tend the garden. These are always watchable performers but Soderbergh's production method I think makes it less successful than it might be. Filmed over two weeks on the actual Queen Mary 2 - that's time for a return voyage I think - using natural light and only a sound recordist as additional crew, encouraging the performers to improvise most of their scenes around credited screenwriter Deborah Eisenberg's story outline.
Soderbergh has always been known for being fleet and light on his feet but I think this group of characters perhaps needed a little more time to cook. Going back through the film to find audio moments to clip for you I was struck by how unfocused individual scenes could be.
But there are some delicious moments and it's a fine showcase for these veteran performers and the conclusion is genuinely moving.
Let Them All Talk is rated M for language and you can rent it at AcademyCinemas.co.nz, Arovideo.co.nz or one of the global media giants but don't do that. Buy local.