Best Sellers has a nearly bankrupt publishing scion forcing a reclusive, cantankerous writer on a make or break book tour for them both. Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza have surprising chemistry as a mismatched odd couple. Their desperate road trip weaves poignantly from comedy to drama by the deft acting of the leads. They make a straightforward and predictable script endearing by infusing irascible, but likeable characters with genuine personality. Best Sellers is a small film with a lot of heart and humor.
Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza) watches as the sales of her publishing company’s latest novel plummets. Her beloved father’s legacy at stake, she entertains a buyout offer from a snarky competitor (Scott Speedman). Meanwhile in Westchester, New York, famed author Harris Shaw (Michael Caine) has debtors threatening to foreclose on his home. He types the last page of a manuscript. Then thinks of setting the whole thing on fire.
A desperate Lucy realizes that Harris Shaw, who’s only written one book in fifty years, owes her company a new novel. The return of a celebrated writer would surely boost sales. Shaw hilariously rebuffs her, but changes his mind when he’s giving mere weeks to pay off his mortgage. However, there are two awkward clauses in the contract. Shaw’s book must be published unedited without any revisions. But Lucy has the right to force him on a promotional tour. Her dreams of taking the literary world by storm are quickly shattered by Shaw’s crude and drunken behavior.
Michael Caine’s antics on the book tour are hilarious. Aubrey Plaza’s struggle to contain him is almost as funny. He brands her his “whiskey sherpa” while cursing himself for being a fraud. Her hopes quickly fizzle, but a connection between them begins to develop. Both characters harbor a deep pain that has crippled their lives. The help of a caring outsider lets them release bottled emotions. Best Sellers takes a sizable dramatic turn, but it is believable and well-acted.
I’ll admit there is a saccharine element to the story. The characters embark on an obvious journey from the first act. But that doesn’t mean it’s less insightful. Anyone who goes on a road trip knows the eventual destination. The joy, sadness, and adventure comes from the incremental steps getting there. These are the moments that end up changing us for the better.
The success of the film rests entirely on their interpretation of the characters. Especially when the written dialogue isn’t amazing. The give and take between comedy and drama is not easily done. Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza sell that dynamic without looking contrived.
Best Sellers is a welcome change of pace from summer popcorn cinema. It provides a needed breather from CGI visual effects, violence, and gore. Michael Caine has been hit or miss with his recent indie films. He’s back in good form with a talented co-star. Best Sellers is produced by Item 7, Wishing Tree Productions, and Telefilm Canada. It will have a theatrical and video on demand release September 17th from Screen Media Films.
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