Best Sellers is a quirky dramedy seen plenty of times before. Michael Caine plays famous retired author Harris Shaw, while Aubrey Plaza is an ambitious young publisher named Lucy. Lucy needs the popularity of Shaw to reignite interest in her publishing company, but Shaw certainly is not about to make things easy… Both lead performances are note-perfect. Yet I couldn’t help feel a sense of disconnect, as the script tries extra hard to get one crying.
The laughs mainly come in the form of curmudgeonly Harris Shaw and his outrageously unpredictable attitude. When he first meets Lucy, he points a shotgun towards her (a funny callback to a time Harris shot his last assistant after he mistook her for a bear). He strikes one critic (Cary Elwes!) later in the movie violently with his cane. The wilder his behavior, the more I loved his character. Anyone that can have crowds chanting “bullshite” is okay in my book! He starts off a mess, with stacks of books piled high everywhere in his rundown home. The dramatic heft lies in the believability of his character, and who better to sell this meaty role than film legend Michael Caine.
Aubrey Plaza, in turn, is faced with being something of a straight man to Caine’s Harris character. She does a good job overall (Lucy even gets intimate with a hunky douche played by Scott Speedman!), though I still felt an emptiness towards Lucy for a significant chunk of the film. In the final act, Lucy’s relationship with Shaw evolves from decent to emotionally devastating. In the darker dramatic moments, Plaza finds a naturalistic rhythm that allows her to paint Lucy in complex colors.
While Best Sellers remains a truly impressive showcase for both Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza, there is an incredibly deep commentary here about aging, popularity/fame, loyalty, and finding a new lease on life. I just wish the the whole two-people-have-a-profound-effect-on-one-another thing was at least slightly less transparent. Best Sellers reminds us that if you think “the world doesn’t need anything new” from you, there may be more to offer…
Best Sellers submits its manuscript when it debuts in theaters and on demand on Friday, September 17th.