Best Sellers 2021 Movie Review
At 88, Michael Caine has reached a stature where he can make just about any material play like King Lear raging on the heath. He doesn’t need the work; he needs to work, to keep the fires burning. He seems to pick roles, not films, which is why we find him giving his all in the rather pedestrian dramatic comedy “Best Sellers.”
There’s not much to recommend here besides Caine. Aubrey Plaza is charming and perfectly adequate as Lucy Stanbridge, who has inherited a flailing independent publishing house from her father. Desperate for an author who can move the needle and sell some books, Lucy discovers that a reclusive novelist owes the house not just a book, but a willing effort to promote said book. (Note: If the publisher still has a promo budget, it can’t be doing all that bad.)
Enter Caine’s Harris Shaw, a crank who drinks from the bottle and aims his rifle at anyone deemed an intruder in his unkempt home (which is just about everyone). Harris has given up on the human race, and he has no interest in facing the outside world to peddle his book. But he also has debts and just enough name recognition to realistically hope to make a few bucks.
What follows is pretty predictable. Lucy drives her irascible charge from venue to venue. Instead of reading — we never really get a good sense of Harris’ work — he takes to a profane form of performance art, which goes over well in the bars where Lucy starts booking him. (The drunk hipsters love it when Harris throws his book to the ground and urinates on it.) He also sets a bookstore display on fire. He’s a bad boy, that Harris Shaw.
But somehow, Caine keeps him from becoming a cliche. There’s a look in his eye, an angry rasp in his voice, that suggests a furious indignation at mortality. Harris hates life, in a fashion; beset by losses personal and professional, he has more or less packed it in. Lucy, we are to believe, helps him unpack. This is a bit murky and occasionally maudlin, but Caine’s performance isn’t. There’s a fire in the belly that belongs to both character and actor. Call it the human condition or awareness of death’s inevitability. Whatever it is, it manages to sink into the bones of an otherwise frivolous film.
“Best Sellers” wants to be relevant as badly as Lucy wants her publishing house to matter, and occasionally there’s a glimmer of truth to what it’s selling. “Somehow, you have more than 20,000 followers,” Lucy tells Harris, as if he cared about social media. “Christ had followers,” the author retorts. “It didn’t end well for him.” That’s funny, more so than anything else in “Best Sellers.”
It’s an innocuous and cuddly film, even with Caine holding forth. It’s hard to tell if he transcends the role as written, or if he merely seized on the one shred of the screenplay worth showcasing. In any case, Caine brings his own shine to this rather dull affair, and shows again that he’s not ready to go gentle into that good night.