‘Let Them All Talk’ Explores Common Writing Issues — on a Cruise Ship

The HBO Max comedy-drama tells a deeper tale, yet nails the writer’s dilemma.

Writers love to talk about their trials and tribulations.

Heck, even movies portray how hard it is to write for a living, that writer’s block buries anyone who puts fingers to keys.

Writing is extremely rewarding, but it isn’t glamorous. It’s lonely, frustrating, mind-numbing, and you constantly question your abilities.

The 2020 comedy-drama Let Them All Talk features Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep), a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who sets sail to the United Kingdom on a cruise ship with her friends Susan (Dianne Wiest) and Roberta (Candice Bergen), and her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges). Alice can’t fly because of medical issues, yet she’s supposed to be in the United Kingdom to receive a prestigious award, so she makes the transatlantic crossing. Unknown to Alice, her new literary agent, Karen (Gemma Chan), also boards the ship to find out what Alice’s next book is about.

Though she’s an award-winning writer, even Alice struggles to put coherent words, sentences, and paragraphs on the page as she tries to craft her next great novel and reconcile with old friends aboard the Queen Mary 2.

Let Them All Talk paints the perfect picture of the writer’s life on a cruise ship. Hop aboard as we bounce between the movie’s interpretation and the real-world rendition.

I miss cruising. I miss venturing on a ship with my family and sailing away from my everyday life. Cruises bring out the worst in humanity, yet the best in me.

Given that I’m a writer and I write while I cruise, I relate to Streep’s Alice. But here’s where we’re different: she’s working on a novel, and I usually write articles for other people’s websites. Her work is more respected than mine. But we both write — on cruise ships.

I choose to write on every ship. I don’t have many hobbies. But I love the ones I do have, such as writing, reading, drinking and eating with friends and family, watching movies and TV shows, staying in hotels, flying, and going on cruises. I also love watching dogs pretend to be humans. If having a burning desire for the holidays is a hobby, then let it light up the list.

Based on my avocations, it’s clear that the pandemic has been a nightmare for me as most social doors were closed. Yet this shared nightmare is the one event that the entire world can relate to.

There are many things I want to do once the pandemic is over. I’m fully vaccinated and although a good portion of America isn’t, my recovery starts now. I’m thirty years old and still mad that my final year in my twenties was destroyed by a pandemic — yet, of course, grateful that my friends and family are still alive. So I can’t wait to belly up to bars, dine inside restaurants, and make my glorious return to every social outing there is. The thought of hugging another human makes me extremely happy, but the 6-foot rule still gives me pause.

What I most look forward to is seeing my family. Life is short. My mom, dad, and brother are all equally important to me. So when an entire year goes by without being in their presence, I crumble.

I know everyone is tired of hearing about young people returning to their lives without precautions. I’m not sure if I fit into the young category anymore. I guess it depends on who I talk to, but I do know a lot of my firsts are in the books.

I like how the characters’ conversations in Let Them All Talk feel so real. A little messy. Even awkward (like me). As the characters struggle to articulate what’s on their mind. People sit down and stand up. They look at each other and then look away — without making a big proclamation or even saying hello. They wander around a massive ship that’s like a floating Las Vegas.

I love cruising. But I struggle in social situations. It takes time for me to open up. Cruises feature random people searching for new things to do every day. People drop food and utensils on the ground and don’t stop to pick them up. Total strangers, with different wants and needs, flood the ship. All those seemingly little things have a big impact on me (and my anxiety). Yet I keep coming back for more.

The film features the characters being awkward without the audience sharing the same sentiment — mostly. And this movie probably feels that way because of improvised dialogue. Yet an all-star cast makes it work.

Alice talks about how words of mystery novels are like styrofoam, and the plots are so simple — because she’s annoyed, perhaps jealous, that another writer, Kelvin Kranz (Daniel Algrant), on the ship whips up novel after novel, while she struggles to string together her next masterpiece.

We all experience imposter syndrome.

That’s what scares me about being a writer who doesn’t work for, say, The New York Times. I want people to take me seriously. I want loved ones to acknowledge my writing existence. Yet I also fear what the people with reputable bylines all over the internet think of me. (I know, they’ve probably never heard of me.)

I want people to focus on what I’m writing as opposed to who I’m writing for, but it would also be perfectly splendid to write for renowned publications.

Art and making money are two different things. Although one can lead to the other. There’s an art to making art and there’s an art to making money. Kelvin Kranz probably dreams of writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel like Alice, yet Alice is envious of how fast he churns out mystery and thriller books, despite dismissing their worth and credibility.

In response to a friend’s plans, Streep’s character says it’s not like she has hours to wander the ship — because she needs to work — when it’s convenient for her (and she’s also mad at her friend). The thing about being a writer is we don’t like our time to be interrupted or wasted. We contradict ourselves on when we should write. We know we should be writing, yet we also understand the conscious mind needs time to breathe so the subconscious can cook up literary magic.

Seemingly out of nowhere, if writers follow this process, the words will, at long last, appear on the page. Let Them All Talk tells a deeper story. The premise is more important than struggles that accompany a writing career, yet it manages to nail that dilemma in the process — all while taking place on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

Just a guy who likes to cruise the aisles at the local 7-Eleven | tslowry.writer@gmail.com

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