Best Sellers

Best Sellers is a colossal disappointment. This flatly-directed dramedy wastes the talents of Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza by putting them in a story that is annoyingly contrived. He's Harris Shaw, a reclusive author who wrote a masterpiece decades ago and hasn't written since. She's Lucy Stanbridge, a young woman who inherited a publishing company from her father. It's in trouble of going under, so when she discovers that Harris contractually owes her a novel, she forces him to come out of retirement. Once his new book is published, they go on a book tour he wants no part of. If you guessed the relationship between the two goes from adversarial to close, you could have written this film.

Anthony Grieco's script is a compendium of clichés and absurdities. There's not a single original note in this entire story, including the requisite mawkish third act. Harris, of course, has a painful secret he's been hiding, one cribbed from other, better movies. He also has a drinking problem. Surely, there must have been another way of depicting how the ice thaws between the two lead characters, aside from introducing a formulaic hardship.

Before we get to the maudlin stuff, though, we get endless scenes of Harris and Lucy bickering, unfunny book tour disasters, and a half-hearted subplot about a guy who wants to buy the publishing company. Worst of all is the contrivance that Harris becomes an overnight social media icon when, instead of reading from his novel, he merely repeats the word “bullshite” over and over. Aside from being not even remotely plausible, this is what Best Sellers thinks will make you laugh.

As for the characters, they're dull to the point where following them is a chore. Michael Caine is never bad onscreen, but Harris is one of those creations where wackiness is mistaken for dimension. He's a guy who parks his car in the middle of an intersection and urinates onstage during a public appearance. No one does that, except characters in badly-written movies. Aubrey Plaza, meanwhile, is miscast as Lucy. Her skill is in playing characters with a kooky edge, not type-A personalities. (See Black Bear for a prime example of what she can do.) Anna Kendrick would have nailed this role.

Director Lina Roessler paces everything sluggishly, which only serves to emphasize how weak the material actually is. Best Sellers plods along lifelessly before coming to the manipulative ending it falsely thinks will move us. I'm not sure what the purpose of making this movie was. Nothing about it is original, and because it's so thoroughly predictable from start to finish, there's no worthwhile message to be gained from it.

What drew the talented stars to this misguided, shallow project? A long time ago, Caine was asked about his decision to appear in Jaws: The Revenge. He replied, “I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” Maybe that's as close to an answer regarding Best Sellers as we're going to get.

out of four

Best Sellers is unrated, but contains strong language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.