Review by Camden Ferrell
Best Sellers is a new comedy-drama film that is also the feature directorial debut of Lina Roessler. It was an official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020 before its cancellation. The movie is also the writing debut of Anthony Grieco. This is a harmlessly safe movie that is equal parts formulaic, predictable, and charming.
Lucy Stanbridge is struggling to maintain the legacy of her father’s publishing company due to declining sales and subpar novels. In order to try and elevate the status of her company, she enlists Harris Shaw, an aging and cranky writer, to go on a book tour for his newest novel. This story is simple, sweet, and enjoyable, but it’s one that relies heavily on the chemistry of its lead actors.
Grieco’s script makes it very clear early on that it’s not trying to do anything new. He adopts the tried and tested storytelling formula that has been done countless times before. This is not saying it’s bad. It has its charm, but it does seem content to be unambitious in telling these characters’ stories.
The movie is led by the always reliable Aubrey Plaza and acting legend Michael Caine. They both have strong chemistry together, but there are sometimes where their bond seems nonexistent. Both Plaza and Caine seem to be putting in minimal effort into their roles. Neither feels particularly inspired, yet the movie doesn’t suffer too much as a result.
Caine’s Harris Shaw is an often-unlikeable author as intended, but he can also be quite infuriating which makes it hard to really get behind his character which is a major flaw in a movie like this. Plaza also doesn’t give us much reason to care for her character, and the script doesn’t fully flesh out these characters and develop them as people.
Roessler’s direction is one of the stronger aspects of the film. She has an honest vision that humanizes the characters in ways that the script and actors simply can’t do properly. She balances the comic aspects of the film with the more serious moments, and she does it gracefully for a first-time director. Like many things in this movie, it’s far from perfect, but it shows genuine promise for her future.
The movie luckily doesn’t lose any steam with its fairly short runtime. It’s a simple story that has a satisfying conclusion that ties everything up nicely. Again, it’s not great, but it’s mostly carried by its charm and confident direction.
While it’s a shame to see such talented actors taking on such safe and formulaic roles, it’s hard to deny that Best Sellers has its enjoyable moments. It’s a decent calling card for Roessler as a director, and it’s a light-hearted movie for people to watch this weekend.
Best Sellers is in theaters and on demand September 17.