Director: Lina Roessler
Writer: Anthony Grieco
Starring: Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Ellen Wong, Cary Elwes, and Scott Speedman
Amidst all the false rumours about Michael Caine retiring, his latest film, Best Sellers, has just had it’s UK premiere at Raindance Festival in London. He may have starred in almost one hundred and fifty films, with a fair few questionable titles in that list, but he’s still on top form in Best Sellers. The film is a black comedy with a lot of heart, and proof that Caine is still able to hold the lead role in a film.
Harris Shaw (Michael Caine) is a reclusive author who hasn’t released a book since the 1970s. He’s still been writing, but since the death of his wife hasn’t shared his work. When he receives a phone call, his first response is to tell them ‘he’s dead’ when answering and then hang up. His contract with his publishing agency, run by Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza), means that he owes them a book. With the agency in trouble, Lucy requests the book, which includes Harris having to reluctantly go on a book tour.
The film is a sombre comedy that deals with a ging, grief, and living up to expectations. Harris’s previous novel is considered to be a modern classic, and critics of the new one are not as impressed. Lucy’s father who created the company has a legacy that Lucy is struggling to live up to. There are people trying to sell the company behind her back, and Harris is the last chance to stop that from happening.
Harris Shaw is an old, loud, and offensive character. Instead of reading from his book on the tour, he reads stories from Penthouse, or just shouts curse words at the audience, who find him funny rather than engaging. He’s worried that his book doesn’t live up to people’s expectations, at the same time he is struggling with the death of his wife, even though it’s been decades. He doesn’t see the value in himself if she’s not around. It’s a really touching character, who by the end of the film you really care for and feel his pain. Caine’s performance is simply stunning.
Aubrey Plaza, as always, is excellent as Lucy. The interplay between the two main characters is the heart of the film. The story beats are predictable with the tension between them as Lucy struggles to get people to buy the book, and Harris not really caring. They then learn about each other, and respect grows until they are friends. There are no surprises, but the characters feel so real that you’re invested, even with the often-recycled plotline. It has some moments that are genuinely heart breaking and will bring a tear to your eye.
While it’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy, there are still funny moments to be found. Harris shouting and swearing his way through the book tour, the hispster audience who would rather buy t-shirts than books. There’s jokes that land, but the overall tone is more sombre. If the characters weren’t as strong, this couldn’t be watched as a comedy alone. It would just fall apart.
Best Sellers is a really moving film. Its story may be familiar, but the way it’s told is filled with emotion.
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