Films are rewarded when they think outside the box and resist their genre’s conventions. But sometimes, a movie can remind us of how narrative prerequisites can be misinterpreted as cliché by indifferent filmmakers.
Take Best Sellers, for instance. It’s essentially a buddy road movie between an eccentric author (Harris Shaw played by Michael Caine) and a desperate publisher (Lucy played by Aubrey Plaza) as they begrudgingly hit multiple stops on a book tour. Lucy, at least, has a motivation. Her late father has left her the publishing company, and she wants to stay in business for reasons that are both loyal and lucrative. Harris, on the other hand, is a bitter grump who has removed himself from society and seems content with his solitude. Lucy rediscovers Harris and presses a forgotten contract against him, stating that he’s obligated to write another book for her company.
With Harris caring less with each stop on the tour and Lucy growing more exhausted with his antics, both of these characters end up resenting each other – they don’t want to embark on the road together. This is an expected dynamic but, in a movie like this, one of these characters has to want to be on the trip in order for the relationship to grow (Folk Hero & Funny Guy being a very good example). Without that feeling, the audience is stuck with two curmudgeons and we feel trapped. A special exception can be made if these characters are funny (The Guilt Trip, Green Book) but, unfortunately, Caine and Plaza give one-note performances that don’t elevate the already-strained material provided by screenwriter Anthony Grieco.
Judging by how absent Lina Roessler’s direction is, she’s either invested too much confidence in her two high-profile leads or she felt intimidated by them. Either conclusion makes sense considering the actors’ track record and Best Sellers being Roessler’s feature-length debut. But still, this only contributes to the overall flat atmosphere of the movie, suggesting no one making this movie is truly enjoying themselves.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie