A basic plot makes this average at best
Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza are the key players in this comedy-drama but despite their best efforts, the movie isn’t a particularly good one.
Caine stars as novelist Harris Shaw, a cantankerous alcoholic who has been living as a recluse in the years since his last book became a literary sensation. Plaza is Lucy, a young woman who has taken over a struggling book publishing company from her father, who discovers a long-hidden contract that states Harris still owes her agency another novel.
As Harris could be the key to saving her company from bankruptcy, Lucy travels to meet with him. But on arrival, she discovers that he is less than happy to be informed about the contractual obligations that were written up many decades ago.
After a difficult first meeting, Lucy returns to her office. Assuming that Harris isn’t going to play ball and release a manuscript for publishing, she decides the best course of action is to sell her company. But just as she is about to hand it over, the grumpy old novelist turns up to save the day. He agrees to go on a book tour with Lucy to promote his new magnum opus and raise money for her business, provided she doesn’t tamper with the manuscript that he has written. And so their road trip begins!
Harris Shaw is the kind of character that Caine could probably play in his sleep. After all, this is the man who ably filled the boots of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Muppet Christmas Carol and the character of Shaw is not too dissimilar. Whether he’s answering a phone call with the words “bugger off” or physically assaulting a patronizing book critic with a walking stick, Caine is entertaining to watch as he portrays the bloody-minded novelist who lives his life without caring what other people think about him.
Plaza is good value too but gone is the edginess and sarcasm that are her usual trademarks. She essentially plays the ‘straight man’ to Caine’s larger than life malcontent but she more than holds her own against the legendary actor with her grounded performance.
Without these actors, the movie would have been far less interesting. The concept is certainly good – a beleaguered book publisher and an irascible OAP go on a journey together – but as the script lacks wit and emotional depth, this rarely works as either comedy or drama.
As is usual in a tale of this sort, Harris and Lucy eventually start to bond. She begins to understand the reasons for his ill-tempered behaviour (beyond his obvious drinking problem) and Harris, after trying to sabotage the tour by urinating on his publications and reciting the word ‘bullshite’ at the book readings, starts to become more respectful of her and her mission to save the publishing company.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the movie following a well-worn formula but their eventual connection feels unearned. Harris only starts being nice to Lucy after she has a meltdown in his hotel room but it’s an unconvincing catalyst for his character transformation. As their begrudging relationship never rises above surface level, it’s hard to imagine that they could ever start to warm to one another.
Still, warm to each other they do and the movie trundles along to a maudlin finale that tries to make us care about the odd couple pairing. We learn more about Lucy’s father and Harris’s late wife and there is an attempt to evoke tears after Lucy learns of Harris’s unfortunate health diagnosis. But as we don’t really know a lot about Lucy and as Harris has proven to be such an unlikeable character, the chances of you feeling sympathy for them are slim.
It’s ironic that a movie about a successful writer has such a basic plot. If this had come from one of Harris’s own works, this would never have made the bestseller list. It gets by on the strength of the acting which does much to paper over the weaknesses in the script. But when compared to other road trip movies featuring polar opposites that are forced to work together – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Midnight Run, Rain Man – this does nothing to make us like the people at the centre of the film’s narrative. And if we don’t like the characters, what’s the point?
Despite my criticisms, Best Sellers isn’t a total waste of time. There is fun to be had watching Caine behave badly and there are a few pointed observations about hipster culture and internet trends. But unlike those movies and novels that suck you in with their well-written characters and engaging plot turns, this lacks the ingredients to make you remember much about it once the final credits have rolled.
Read More: Best Sellers Ending Explained
Verdict - 5.5/10