Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Lina Roessler
Writer: Anthony Greico
Cast: Sir Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Ellen Wong, Scott Speedman, Cary Elwes
Screened at: Critics’ link, NY, 9/13/21
Opens: September 17th, 2021
Writers are often their own biggest critics. Even if a work does well, there can be lingering self-doubt that causes someone to feel like they want to be dissociated with content, whether it’s a literal act of taking their name off of it or merely shying away from rereading it or discussing it. For fans, however, not being willing to speak about or dive back into an acclaimed book or film is disappointing, and can lead to an inability to market it or, alternatively, create a cult based just as much on the attitude and reputation of the author as on the work itself.
Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza) is struggling to keep the publishing house she has inherited from her father afloat, and a sale to Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman) seems imminent. When her loyal colleague Rachel (Ellen Wong) discovers an item in the small print of an ancient contract, Lucy has a new idea: to go after a long-retired author, Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), and market his book to a new audience. Harris, who first greets Lucy and Rachel with a shotgun when they arrive on his property, is less than willing to participate in a press tour, determined to live out his days with the most curmudgeonly of attitudes.
This film presents two characters who are at remarkably different points in their lives yet have more in common than they might think. Harris has lost the one person he ever truly cared about, and he doesn’t see much motivation to do anything else, certainly not to pander to those who want to enjoy the work that he believes is absolute trash. Lucy yearns to be successful but hasn’t managed to find the right opportunity, and she can’t stand the thought of giving up on her family legacy without trying every possible avenue to save it first.
Like Lucy and Harris, Plaza and Caine are also at different points in their careers and typically act in radically different projects. Plaza tones down her signature snark to play an only moderately irritable personality, one who frequently uses sarcasm but is more capable of functioning in society due to the effort that she does put forth. Caine mixes the gravitas he has with a complete lack of desire to appease anyone, which makes him the more unpleasant of the two, and their scenes together a true delight.
What this film is definitely not is a love story, one that finds the two discovering a deep connection that transcends friendship or anything like that. Instead, it’s a building of a mutual dependence, one that acknowledges that neither would have chosen to end up in this situation but that they are doing what they must in order to survive and make their time count. It’s endearing to see them create a rapport, especially after the many missteps that occur along the way and cause a great deal of aggravation for Lucy.
There is nothing particularly inventive or original about this story, and there’s actually something dated about the notion of the kind of book tour that Lucy pushes Harris to do. But that’s what works so well about this film, which blends nostalgia with hopelessness, delivering a simple but charming tale of two people clinging to antiquated notions and slowly accepting the reality that has come to exist while they were waiting for the word to acclimate to them. Like the Internet stardom Harris achieves as a result of his very public negativity to his book, this film may be fleeting, but it’s a lot of fun and very watchable while it lasts.
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+