Best Sellers , Lina Roessler’s astounding new film and feature directorial debut starring Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza, explores the lives of two embittered strangers who find friendship on the road to redemption.
Lucy Stanbridge (Plaza) is desperate. On the cusp of losing her father’s beloved publishing business, she needs an answer to her problems, and fast. Into the scene walks Harris Shaw (Caine), an ancient – and, most importantly, affordable – writer who’s been signed to her publishing company for decades. Despite not having written a book in 40 years, he’s the best option Lucy has, and so she resorts to begging (read: blackmailing) Shaw back into the business with the offer to publish his new book. Unfortunately, Shaw is more trouble than anyone could have bargained for, leaving Lucy in an even stickier situation.
The casting for this film is excellent, providing a successful and dynamic collaboration the different actors, each of whom brings their own unique touch to this production. Plaza does an admirable job creating a likeable and empathetic character in Lucy Stanbridge, an overwhelmed publishing editor on the eve of losing it all. However, it is her colleagues who truly carry Best Sellers to its impressive heights.
Ellen Wong is delightful as Rachel, Lucy’s bubbly and ever-capable publishing assistant. With excellent comedic timing and an ability to balance her humorous moments with scenes of genuine warmth, Rachel is simultaneously stubborn and unyielding, yet soft and loving, a balancing act which Wong performs with seemingly little effort.
Not to be outshone, Caine offers yet another impressive performance in Best Sellers, portraying the grumpy and abrasive Harris Shaw with such commitment and empathy that it is impossible not to be drawn under his spell. Initially an unlikeable character, Shaw appears utterly beaten by life, bitter and pessimistic to the extreme. Over time however, Caine artfully unravels his character’s vulnerability, hinting at his deeply hidden secrets while peeling back the bleeding layers to reveal the enigma within. The result? A man no less broken than expected, but more likeable and sympathetic than could have ever been anticipated. You may even call him endearing towards the end of the film. What was once a rabid dog who couldn’t help but bite a friendly hand, turns out to be little more than a hedgehog whose spikes rear up at the first hint of danger.
While Best Sellers is pegged as a dark comedy, it is its rare, unbearably human moments that make it great. Personal and intimate, they juxtapose wonderfully with the fast-paced, wit-laden scenes that fill the rest of this film. These moments are special not only for how relatable they feel, but for the ways in which they remind the audience of our characters’ use of humour as a shield.
For the majority of the film, the audience witnesses the events as outsiders looking in; however, there are times where Roessler chooses to draw us back into the action. This is skilfully done through some of its artistic choices, such as when the camera blurs for a few seconds before showing us what one of our characters (typically Shaw) is witnessing. This way we feel as though we have been transported from our seat into the very eyes of the character. These small cinematographic flourishes bring a greater sense of involvement and personal stakes to Best Sellers, ensuring a most compelling watch for its beguiled audience.
The greatest strength of Best Sellers is undoubtedly the delicate, multi-dimensional growth that takes place during those 102 minutes. It is a challenging yet rewarding journey that we take alongside the cast. While our protagonists develop and begin to better understand each other, we too learn to recognise our biases and preconceived notions. The story teaches to let go of them in order to get to know the person beneath. Both the protagonists have attributes that are difficult to like or sympathise with at first. It is only by giving them our time and our attention that we are able to see beyond that and enjoy a warm, inspirational story filled with hope.
Best Sellers is one of those rare productions that actually make you think and argue with yourself, even while you watch it. Despite initially appearing as quite a pessimistic tale, the ending is far more optimistic than one could have ever hoped, reminding viewers of the potential we all have to do good. Ultimately, you may come for the stand-out cast and in hopes of a few good laughs, but you’ll stay for the deeply moving story that was hidden beneath.
Best Sellers is available on Digital Download now.