★★★½ - STUFF
- If this is Sir Michael Caine's swansong, he leaves with a swagger -
Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza) badly needs a hit.
Her hopes of turning around a bad run with a young adult fantasy novel about dragons has gone horribly awry.
Disastrous reviews in The New York Times and from YouTube child “influencers” describing it “as trying to be Harry Potter, when it’s not even a bad Twilight” have resulted in dire early sales figures and her publishing company spiralling into a parlous financial state.
Desperate to rescue her father’s legacy from the clutches of circling rivals, Lucy begins a frantic search through their roster for salvation. After ruling out those who are now dead, or otherwise incapacitated, her only hope appears to be Harry Shaw (Michael Caine).
Despite it being 50 years since his seminal novel Atomic Autumn, Lucy is convinced that’s a good thing: “He’s had a lot of time to come up with something new.”
But although an already paid advance means Shaw “owes us a book”, Lucy is warned he comes with plenty of baggage. Described by many as “a drunk, recluse madman”, stories abound of how he was thrown out of Ireland for disorderly behaviour and shot his last assistant because he mistook him for a bear.
Unnerved, but undeterred – and unable to get him on the phone – Lucy makes the trans-Atlantic trip to Shaw’s home, where he quickly dismisses her pleas with a gruff, “the world doesn’t need anything new from me”.
However, just when Lucy resigns herself to signing over the company, Shaw miraculously appears in her office, toting a completed manuscript.
Initially bridling at the prospect of an accompanying book tour, he relents when she points out a clause in his contract that means it’s part of the deal that also allows him to avoid being edited by anyone. Demanding a rider of a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, shelled peanuts and cigars per appearance (which cannot be before noon), Shaw and Lucy set off on a cross-country adventure into the unknown. She though, is definitely not prepared for what she’s about to unleash.
Initially billed by Caine himself as likely to be his last “part” (in October, the now 88-year-old told the BBC he was “no longer an actor”), if that’s the case, Best Sellers certainly offers the two-time Academy Award winner a suitable swansong. He’s at his scene-stealing best here, whether it’s buttonholing a sniffy critic, dissecting the inherent flaws in Road Runner cartoons, or entertaining crowds by reading readers letters from 1970s Penthouse magazines (instead of passages from his book).
Harry Shaw is no Harry Palmer, Peachy Carnehan, or even Dr. Frank Bryant, but the acerbic free-spirit-who-is-clearly-masking-private-pain allows Caine the chance to dial up his tics and shtick, enjoy himself and thoroughly entertain viewers.
Likewise, writer Anthony Grieco and director Lina Roessler, both making their feature debuts, don’t offer anything particularly groundbreaking or revolutionary in the script, or its realisation (despite the similar premise and central “relationship”, As Good As It Gets this is not, although former Parks and Recreation star Plaza more than holds her own in what could have been a thankless role), but, if you’re a fan of the burgeoning mature-people-behaving-badly genre, then you’ll definitely get a kick out of this.
- James Croot, STUFF
Best Sellers is now playing at Light House Petone!