Movie Review: ‘Best Sellers’

Review by James Lindorf

After years of underwhelming sales, Stanbridge Publishing has officially begun its death throes. Clinging to every bit of remaining hope, head of that New York publishing house Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza) is going to take one last shot at saving her father’s business. The only problem is that every writer they have under contract is either dead or unaffordable. Everyone but one, that is. Rachel (Ellen Wong) Lucy’s most loyal and only employee discovers they are owed a book by the author who put the company on that map in the 1970s. Since his successful debut, author Harris Shaw (Michael Caine) has become a cantankerous and booze-addled recluse. After plenty of angry words, a few threats, and several broken traffic laws, the pair come to an uneasy deal. On September 17th, the reluctant duo will embark on a book tour from hell through some theaters and all major On Demand platforms looking to give Harris a pair of “Best Sellers.”

Michael Caine is an acting legend with a career that spans eight, yes 8, decades. After recent years full of voice work and dignified supporting turns in Christopher Nolan movies, the octogenarian gets a chance to cut loose with Shaw. Shaw has no filter and no shame, freely running around yelling “bullshite,” choking an obnoxious book critic (Cary Elwes), and even peeing on his own book during a reading. Caine must have seen something special in the character to sign on to a project with a limited budget, based on a script from a first-time writer in the hands of a first-time director. If it wasn’t the role itself, the most significant selling point had to be the chance to work with his costar Aubrey Plaza.

From her time on “Parks and Recreation” to her breakout role in “Ingrid Goes West,” Plaza has made it a habit of playing quirky and edgy characters. However, in “Best Sellers,” she tamps that down to play Lucy as the “straight man” to her eccentric costar. For those who have seen everything she has done in her career, this performance is a revelation. Showing that her career has been more about typecasting than her being limited in the types of performances she can give. She is excellent as the trust fund kid working herself to the bone for the sake of her father and to prove she is more than a silver spoon. She lets the more sinister side briefly shine through in a couple of scenes that fit the actress more than they do the character. It should be taken as an effect of spending so much time with Harris, but it is a tonal shift from the usual dark comedy into something more slapstick.

Director Lina Roessler (Little Whispers: The Vow) has proven she has a good eye for setting up scenes. More importantly, she can handle working with seasoned actors and help them put forward high-quality performances. The 36-year old actor and director should have a long career behind the camera should she decide to make the switch permanently. Roessler and the cast did the best they could with an entertaining but by-the-book script from Anthony Greico. Early on, it seems like we are poised for a potent takedown of the literary world, targeting everything from critics to marketing campaigns. However, that is quickly put aside for the typical May-December friendship story with obvious plot points.

It may be a bit much to ask a newcomer to break the mold and not rely on tried and true elements that earned that distinction by being crowd-pleasers. Still, it is hard not to be left wanting more from the story. Thankfully it was great actors giving good performances and who doesn’t enjoy a road movie and seeing how their relationship changes with each passing town. “Best Sellers” may not find its way to the top of a New York Times list, but it earns a 3.5 out of 5 for all the things it does do well.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Original Language: English
Writer: Anthony Grieco
Release Date: September 17th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 40m

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