Best Sellers, 2021
Directed by Lina Roessler.
Starring Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes, Ellen Wong, Scott Speedman, Veronica Ferres, Elana Dunkelman, Alexandra Petrachuk, Luc Morissette, and Frank Schorpion.
A cranky, retired author reluctantly embarks on a final book tour to help out a young publisher.
While fulfilling a promotional tour for his new book, Michael Caine’s curmudgeon novelist Harris Shaw goes viral for frequently uttering the expletive “bullshite” and urinating on his own work instead of reading from it. That’s what passes for comedy in director Lina Roessler’s narrative debut feature (penned by Anthony Grieco), Best Sellers. To be fair, there are also dramatic elements as the narrative sees the inherited owner of a publishing house struggling to keep the business afloat, which proves to be difficult when regular writers are churning out books panned by trade journalists and YouTube child influencers (one of the film’s only decent laughs, and even that’s a stretch).
Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza) also isn’t ready to call it quits and sell everything off to a buyer in Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman), someone she also has sexual tension with, in one of the most random and worthless subplots of many here. Together with her assistant Rachel (Ellen Wong), they set out to the home of Harris, now a reclusive drunk, after unearthing contract details stating that he owes the publishing house another book. Aside from having a shotgun pulled on them, the meeting goes well enough, considering Harris does have a manuscript in place. He just doesn’t want to do the touring. Hence, the juvenile antics mentioned above.
The more Harris becomes a viral Internet sensation, the more people demand T-shirts and other memorabilia, as apparently, no one reads anymore. Sales of the book are embarrassing, which seems directly at odds with his heralded status as a legend of his craft (50 years ago, he wrote a book that was considered a masterpiece but inexplicably never wrote anything again) and rising popularity with younger demographics. The humor is also consistently awful, with Harris getting a little aggressive and violent towards a stuck-up Times critic played by Cary Elwes in what’s more of an extended cameo.
Throughout all of this, Harris is hacking up a lung (I suppose his sickness is also fitting since this is also the second performance in a row I’ve seen from Michael Caine where his on-screen activity was severely limited, mostly consisting of conversations sitting down, this time to an extent where multiple shots of his character exiting a car are disorientingly done from an overhead perspective as if to hide the actor because he really is having trouble walking, which is really starting to get concerning), telegraphing that sooner or later things are going to get serious despite his crass behavior and refusal to play along with Lucy.
Best Sellers is never for one second clever when it comes to hiding the specifics of its narrative no matter how hard it tries to avoid talking about what this new book is about or Harris’ past. Lazily constructed manipulative schmaltz is one thing, but it’s even more insulting when the story is this flatly predictable. There is a stretch of roughly 15 minutes where Harris and Lucy get to bond like real humans (Aubrey Plaza and Michael Caine are certainly putting forth some effort when the story is getting to its emotional core) that gives the impression things might turn around. Then it turns out Lucy was misleading about something important, which triggers a chain of ridiculous and cloying events. These two characters possess some admirable traits, but they are lost inside cheap jokes and messy Hallmark storytelling that reeks of bullshite. Best Sellers is destined to become the exact opposite of one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com