Look, I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s precisely what one will do with Best Sellers, a cliched dramedy that nudges every narrative beat you expect, only mildly saved by the odd-couple pairing of Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza; his cantankerousness at odds with her more manic downtrodden-ness.
Caine – not in his retiring role – stars as Harris Shaw, a once-legendary author, now 50-year recluse whose Pulitzer Prize-winning literature piece set him up for a career of infamy and essentially launched the publishing house of his former editor, Joseph Stanbridge. Stanbridge’s legacy isn’t exactly thriving though, with the business about go under, with Joseph’s daughter, Lucy (the always charismatic Plaza), unable to save it from its foreboding crumble. That is until she digs up an old contract that stipulates that Harris both owes the house a book and a promotional tour.
Of course, Caine’s Harris being a disagreeable old bastard means he won’t make this easy for the frenetically unravelling Lucy. Though he eventually agrees to go on tour with his book, he doesn’t read any pages, instead chanting the word “bullshite” on repeat and, quite literally, pissing on his work. His actions become surprisingly viral – in the most positive of ways though – with Lucy learning that kids today would rather watch someone sprout words than read for themselves. It’s a minor money-making PR dream for the desperate Lucy but, as anyone that’s seen this type of plotting before, this will only be a fleeting moment and the shite is still very much on hand to hit the fan.
Though there’s fun to be had in watching Caine and Plaza bounce off each other, it isn’t always jovial sarcasm, and it’s when the film quite obviously starts to express trouble in how to address their relationship and professional dilemma that it starts to sink into furthered predictability, adopting a certain unpleasant nature along the way. It’s not that Best Sellers shouldn’t express Harris and Lucy’s volatility, it’s that it feels unearned when it has suggested a more farcical tone to this point; see Cary Elwes‘ oddly accented book critic for proof.
An easy read that’s entirely too safe, Best Sellers, despite typically reliable work from Caine and Plaza, feels like a film that wants to be more life-altering and important than it ultimately is. It’s simple, if a little stale, and would barely be worth turning the page for if it didn’t keep reminding us how grandiose its co-leads truly are.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Best Sellers is screening in Australian theatres from November 25th, 2021.