“Best Sellers” – Raising Caine [MOVIE REVIEW]

Aubrey Plaza as Lucy Stanbridge and Michael Caine as Harris Shaw in "Best Sellers." Photo courtesy of Screen Media.

Aubrey Plaza as Lucy Stanbridge and Michael Caine as Harris Shaw in “Best Sellers.” Photo courtesy of Screen Media.

“Best Sellers,” is the features directing debut of Lina Roessler working from the first produced feature script by Anthon Grieco. “Best Sellers is a fun, swiftly moving small tale that benefits enormously from having the venerable Michael Caine as its center.

Lucy Stanbridge has inherited her father’s famous publishing house and is failing miserably. So far, she has guessed wrong on every young adult book that she’s published and is horribly in debt. Breathing down her neck is competitor, and former lover Jack Sinclair. Jack is interested in picking up the house for a song and she’s not interested in selling. What she needs is a book that will put them back on the map but she can ill afford one of the go-to names. Reviewing their catalogue of books, she and her colleague Rachel come upon an old contract. Years and years ago, her father published the debut novel of Harris Shaw. It was a blockbuster and then Shaw pulled a Salinger and disappeared from sight. According to his old contract, he was paid an advance for his next book and never delivered. He owes them a book and Lucy is determined to get it. Surely in the last 40 years he’s written something.

Lucy and Rachel begin their quest to find him, publish him, and save the business. Not quite as straightforward as it sounds. They do find him; he has written another book; he’s not going to cooperate. With the proceeds of his first novel, he bought the house his wife wanted, one that would be possible for the family they were about to have. But sometimes you get a bad roll of the dice. Soon after buying the house, at the peak of his fame, their baby died, followed swiftly by the death of his beloved wife. He’s been in an alcoholic haze ever since. He is the very personification of a grumpy old man on steroids. He owes Lucy the book he’s just written but there’s a catch. The contract stipulated that no one could edit the manuscript; it had to be taken as is. Gulping, Lucy points out that the contract also indicated that he was legally obligated to promote the book however she directs. Shaw reluctantly agrees, but what she considers promotion and what he does are two entirely different things.

Michael Caine as Harris Shaw and Aubrey Plaza as Lucy Stanbridge in “Best Sellers.” Photo courtesy of Screen Media.

Shaw has a cult following among the young and brings in large crowds to the night spots where he is booked. But as in most things, you can bring the horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Yes, Shaw shows up at the venues; no, Shaw won’t read from his new book. This is truly the book tour from hell.

Rather than saving Lucy’s publishing house, it is causing it to sink faster. She and Rachel must find ways to counter Shaw’s intransigence, his ever present bottle of Johnny Walker Black, and make him relevant despite his actions. How she does this is forward thinking and a good use of social media that completely bypasses her author. Life lessons are learned, everyone, including Shaw, grows up, and trust is earned.

In many ways, no new ground is broken. Secrets are revealed, some are kept, happily ever after isn’t really in the picture, but Lucy is much better off after her connection with Shaw, despite the many sacrifices along the way.

Roessler and Grieco have kept the material fresh despite some of the stereotypic villains that rear their heads. Certainly the film benefits immensely from Michael Caine’s presence. He gives depth to the grumpy old man trope and grows into his role gracefully, pulling everyone else with him. Aubrey Plaza as Lucy more than holds her own. Never really lost, her character finds inventive ways to move forward. Plaza and Caine make a very good team and she rises to the occasion presented to her.

Opening September 17 at the Monica Film Center and On Demand.

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