At 88, Michael Caine has reached a stature where he can do just about any material game like King Lear raging on the heather. He doesn’t need the job; he needs To work, to keep the fires on. He seems to choose roles, not movies, which is why we find him giving it all in the rather pedestrian-friendly drama “Best Sellers”.
There isn’t much to recommend here other than Caine. Aubrey Plaza is charming and perfectly fitting as Lucy Stanbridge, who inherited a burgeoning independent publishing house from her father. Desperate for an author capable of moving the needle and selling books, Lucy discovers that a lonely novelist owes home not just a book, but a voluntary effort to promote the book. (Note: if the publisher still has a promotional budget, it can’t hurt that much.)
Enter Harris Shaw of Caine, a crank who drinks from the bottle and points his gun at anyone considered an intruder in his poorly maintained home (which is pretty much everyone). Harris has renounced the human race, and he has no interest in confronting the outside world to peddle his book. But he also has debt and just enough notoriety to realistically hope to make a few bucks.
What follows is quite predictable. Lucy drives her irascible charge from place to place. Instead of reading – we never really get a good idea of Harris’ work – he takes on a secular form of performance art, which goes well in bars where Lucy starts to book him. (Drunk hipsters love it when Harris throws his book on the floor and urinates on it.) He also sets a bookstore on fire. He’s a bad boy, that Harris Shaw.
But somehow Caine keeps it from becoming a cliché. There is a look in his eyes, a rasp of anger in his voice, which suggests a furious indignation at the mortality. Harris hates life, in a way; beset with personal and professional losses, he more or less packed it. Lucy, we have to believe it, helps her unbox. It’s a little cloudy and teary at times, but Caine’s performance isn’t. There is a fire in the belly that belongs to both the character and the actor. Call it the human condition or awareness of the inevitability of death. Either way, he manages to sink into the bones of an otherwise frivolous film.
“Best Sellers” wants to be as relevant as Lucy wants her publishing house to count, and sometimes there is a glimmer of truth in what she sells. “Either way, you have over 20,000 followers,” Lucy tells Harris, as if he cares about social media. “Christ had disciples,” retorts the author. “It didn’t end well for him.” It’s funny, more than anything else in “Best Sellers”.
It’s a harmless and cuddly movie, even with Caine speaking. It’s hard to say if he transcends the role as written, or if he has simply grabbed a shred of the script that deserves to be presented. Either way, Caine brings his own brilliance to this rather boring affair, and shows once again that he’s not ready to go easy on that good night.
THE“Best sellers”: Drama. With Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Speedman, Cary Elwes and Ellen Wong. Directed by Lina Roessler. (Uncategorized. 100 minutes.) In some cinemas and video on demand from Friday, September 17.