BEST SELLERS

★★

CAINE AND PLAZA GO ON A BOOK TOUR

BRITISH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Joel Kalkopf
21st November 2021

As the camera pans across a home, we see a scruffy, alcohol and cigar-laden man, staring into his typewriter while his cat lies by his feet. It's a cliché seen many times over about the old writer who's lost his passion for life and holds no connection to the world around him. As he puts his final words to paper, the phone rings and he throws it out the window, wanting nothing to do with whoever may be calling, and seemingly disinterested in speaking to anyone anymore who isn't his cat.

In her debut feature, this is how director Lina Roesslar opens her film 'Best Sellers', and how she chooses to introduce her disgruntled star, author Harris Shaw (Michael Caine, 'The Prestige', 'Harry Brown'). Doing his best Scrooge impression since - well, his Scrooge impression - Caine is fed up with the world and hates everything about it.

On the other side of the coin is Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza, 'Ingrid Goes West', 'Safety Not Guaranteed'), who needs lady luck on her side. She has inherited her father's publishing company, but after three big commercial flops in a row, she is facing the real prospect of being bought out and tarnishing the name she wants so dearly to uphold. Her last chance saloon will fall to Shaw, who still owes the company a novel after a contractual agreement with Lucy's father. Reluctantly and resentfully, Shaw agrees to bring her his latest novel, as well as go on the promotional tour with her as was stipulated in the contract.

'BEST SELLERS' TRAILER

The recluse and the ever-positive would-be editor hit the road, in a last-ditch effort to save the publishing company, and perhaps even learn a thing or two from one another on the way.

'Best Sellers' has all the plot points and warmth one would expect from a Sunday afternoon trip to the cinemas, but unfortunately, this film bears a closer resemblance to a Hallmark movie than one befitting of such A-list talent.

I found the chemistry between the actors mostly awkward and completely inorganic, as if they all met for the first time on set before every scene. The only exception to this was Ellen Wong ('Scott Pilgrim vs. The World'), who is always delightful, and she is no different here as Lucy's assistant, Rachel.

The problem a film has when the chemistry feels so forced is that everything you expect from those interactions just doesn't work. The emotional beats in the film don't hit as hard as they should, because the initial connection wasn't ever there. And this is a real shame because these are really fantastic actors who all know how to play melancholic characters, but just aren't given enough meat to bite into. There are some revelations in the third act that are hinted at throughout, but once again, you find yourself caring very little because, like the actors who seem to want to rush through and get to the next scene, so too will the audience.

'Best Sellers' has all the plot points and warmth one would expect from a Sunday afternoon trip to the cinemas, but unfortunately, this film bares a closer resemblance to a Hallmark movie than one befitting of such A-list talent.

There was so much that didn't seem to work. The screenplay, written by Anthony Grieco in his first feature writing credit, feels like it was written by somebody completely out of touch with the world, but trying to understand "millennials" as if he saw them once in a movie. There is also a scene where Shaw burns books, with the aftermath leading to a boost in sales, and I have a problem with turning book-burning into some sort of victory, no matter the context.

Despite all this, somehow, against all the odds, there is still something really sweet here. 'Best Sellers' can feel like a combination of a bad Sunday flick and a good Hallmark movie, but like a good Hallmark movie, you can't help but feel sentiment every now and then. If you go to this film expecting little, you'll be pleased with the tenderness it has to offer, but if you expect Caine and Plaza to pull a rabbit out of that, think again. This is one of those films I really wanted to like, but ended up struggling through.

Caine has mentioned to some press for this film that it might be his last, and that would be the ultimate shame.

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