Aubrey Plaza, Michael Caine, Scott Speedman, Ellen Wong, Cary Elwes
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Despite the story’s nesting doll of cliches, the cast truly give it their all.
When book publisher Lucy Standbridge (Aubrey Plaza) inherits her father’s publishing house, one bad decision after another soon finds her the captain of a sinking ship. On the verge of being forced to sell the company and risk the legacy that her father built, Lucy’s lifeboat comes in the form of a decades-old contract made between her father and one-time best selling author Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), which promises Standbridge exclusive rights to Shaw’s next book. Dragging the reclusive author back into the spotlight in an effort to save her business turns out to be more difficult than Lucy could ever imagine; Shaw’s boozing and constant crotchetiness almost making him more trouble than he’s worth.
Best Sellers is a platonic spin on the rom-com road trip: two intellectually intelligent but emotionally stunted loners discovering what it means to place their trust in each other (while unexpectedly becoming the latest top viewed vid on YouTube). Shaw’s foul-mouthed theatrics make him a hit with the TikTok generation — his refusal to read from his own work during the book tour, choosing to yell “bullshite” and urinate on his novel rather than promote it — has him trending within hours of his debut. Screenwriter Anthony Grieco might be attempting commentary on the younger generation’s preference for instant gratification and meme-able moments over the written word, but the argument never fully develops the teeth it needs to bite.
The same can be said of the Plaza/Caine dynamic: two delightfully wry and charismatic stars in their own right, but unfortunately the material they’re given to work with here leans toward heavy-handed sentimentality rather than the kind of caustic banter both would have excelled at playing. There are none of the expected Girl Friday-esque quips sparking their dynamic; too often the cross-generational bickering ends up buried beneath saccharine schmaltziness.
If nothing else, the film’s gentle atmosphere is consistent. Lost Girl actress-turned-director Lina Roessler, together with cinematographer Claudine Sauvé, favours warm tones and intimate framing to build Lucy and Harris’s world, Sauvé’s soft-edged lenses perfectly suited to Grieco’s tender-hearted script.
Despite the story’s nesting doll of cliches, the cast truly give it their all. Plaza lets loose a more emotional and vulnerable side than the aloof and deadpan characters we’re used to seeing her play, and Caine — his 88 years of age made more apparent by the director taking every opportunity to allow him to sit, lean or lie down — remains a powerhouse, as dynamic and engaging as ever. As the literary Harris Shaw, Caine has some wonderfully moving monologues where he gets to spout inspirational quotes such as “sometimes a man has to dare to be ambitious”. If only the film itself had taken that particular advice on board.