Screen Media
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lina Roessler
Writer: Anthony Greico
Cast: Sir Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Ellen Wong, Scott Speedman, Cary Elwes
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/21
Opens: September 17, 2021

The movie may be as commercial as the latest smartphone and as sloppily sentimental as a Hallmark 75th Anniversary card. Still, given its casting of Sir Michael Caine as a man who is made up to look like his real 88-years self and Aubrey Plaza as the young executive he bails out of a mess until he is himself given new enthusiasm, “Best Sellers” is an adorable, literary work. Though the studio marketing department may not expect a large audience of millennials, Ms. Plaza just might work to draw them in and who knows? Maybe our young people will be inspired to go beyond their incessant reading of iPhone texts and delve more into what’s available in the current and even past fiction markets.

Director Lina Roessler, who resembles Aubrey Plaza, is fresh from her acting roles, one being as the principal in “Black Bear” (a rural retreat evokes her inner demons). Now she shows the nuances of a relationship between youth and age that reads like a year’s bar graph of the stock market: ups and downs, downs and ups. We in the audience cannot be blamed for rooting for the two principals, each profiting from both a business relationship and a cuddly one. Even Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), depicting an octogenarian who had penned a famous book way back and then seemingly indulged a fifty-years’ writers’ block, captures our sympathies. Never mind that he is described by Lucy (Aubrey Plaza) as “not homophobic: he hates everybody.”

Lucy, who has inherited a failing publishing house from her father and is pushed to sell by Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman), comes close to signing the house over but is saved by a sudden visit from Harris Shaw. Lucy had confronted Shaw with a near-forgotten contract that requires him to write and help promote a new book on tour. She and her assistant Rachel (Ellen Wong) work together to save the company, but must go the distance to get Shaw, who does indeed come up with a novel, to honor the contract and give books talks to drum up support. Strangely, each time Shaw is given the floor (only bars patronized by the young seem to accept the team), he pretends to read from a chapter but instead repeats the word “Bullshite.” Is he saying that’s what he thinks of his book? Or is he just bonkers? Lucy and Rachel may not be too surprised when the bar patrons ignore that books on the table and instead suggest that they sell T-shirts saying “Bullshite.”

Thanks to social media, Shaw’s name becomes viral, though the folks following Shaw on Facebook and Instagram recall only that Shaw publicly urinated on his own books. Apparently it takes a lot for a video to go viral. You can often count on bodily fluids to attract attention.

“Best Sellers” might be considered an attempt to satirize vapid youths and demented oldies, but I doubt this is what scripter Anthony Greico has in mind. Instead, think of this latest vehicle for the enormous talent of Michael Caine, his ability, along with Plaza’s to make a credible stab at chemistry between people separated by fifty or sixty years of life. It’s a fine debut for Roessler, known more for her acting than for being in command of the performances of others.

100 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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