Sunday, September 19, 2021

Best Sellers: Movie Review

Funny, charming and predictable.
Best Sellers is a comedy-drama set in the modern-day publishing world. To get started, it emphasizes the comedy. Harris Shaw (Michael Caine) is a curmudgeonly old writer who answers the phone with “He’s dead.” and then throws it out the window. The only thing he likes is his cat, an absolute sweetheart of a cat, and hates all people. Lucy (Aubrey Plaza) is a 30-something head of a struggling publishing company left to her by her father and being circled by potential buyers.   2021

Directed by: Lina Roessler

Screenplay by: Anthony Grieco

Starring: Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza

She needs a hit now, but preferably one she doesn’t have to pay for. She and assistant Ellen (Rachel Spence) go digging through old contracts for authors who aren’t yet dead, and find an advance deal from the 70s for Harris’s next novel which he never did write (or wrote but never submitted). The beginning is funny. Rachel Spence has excellent screen presence especially for a comedy, Plaza obviously has excellent comedic timing, and Michael Caine is able to turn the cliché curmudgeon into a funny and even somewhat endearing character.

Story-wise things just zip right along. Script-wise, it becomes a bit of a mess. Harris’ deal is such that Lucy is not allowed to edit his book and in exchange for leaving it as is, he will go on a book tour. So not only does Lucy not edit it, she doesn’t even read it, she spends an exorbitant amount of money which she doesn’t have on a traditional print run and ship the books to book stores, coffee houses, and bars all over the Northeast, and then Harris is on his book tour. That takes five minutes of movie time, and approximately the same amount of real-life time.

The filmmakers dropped publishing realism in favour of a more audience-friendly movie. That’s a tough choice, but for an indie movie, their main audience is going to be writers, editors and others in the industry that might not make it very far in.

The first half of the movie is the book tour. It drags a bit since it’s repetitive, but it’s also funny. Harris is an alcoholic whose commitment to doing the book tour does not include actually reading from the book. So he stands up and says “bullshite, bullshite, bullshite” over and over again. The bar patrons think he’s hilarious but one problem, that doesn’t translate to book sales. Young people aren’t buying physical books – Lucy seems surprised to learn this, so it’s no longer surprising that her company is failing.

The second half of the movie is Lucy working her magic to turn the book into a hit, Lucy and Harris bonding, and eventually the movie reveals its theme: the feeling of being a fraud even at an old age. The comedy wears off, and the pace slows down a lot.

Best Sellers is a funny, enjoyable and pleasant movie. The actors definitely do their best to elevate the material. However, alienating its target audience isn’t a great move and the themes are light-weight and a little tired.