BEST SELLERS – Review by Martha K Baker

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Considering that Best Sellers centers on a writer, it falls apart largely due to the script. Anthony Grieco plotted the story about an old, drunk author. Harris Shaw has few redeeming qualities — he does not even rise up to Lou-Grant level of curmudgeon as a character. Nothing likable except his writing.

Grieco partnered Shaw with Lucy Stanbridge. She runs the boutique publishing house she’d inherited from her father. He had “found” and published Shaw decades ago, solidifying the reputation of his shop and of Shaw. The house is failing. Desperate, Lucy and her loyal assistant plow through contracts until they find that the company paid Harris Shaw an advance for a book he’s never delivered.

They find him, negotiate the rights to his latest book, and command the old gar to go on a book tour. He agrees. But he’s not agreeable. In his best British barnyard idiom, he rails at the fans who loved his first book. It goes viral. Still, his books are not selling, so Lucy has to serve as his Scotch sherpa to finagle his cooperation in exchange for vats of Johnny Walker Black.

Their twosome should have had sparks. It should have produced laughter — maybe exasperated, but still laughter. It should have produced affection for the two desperate people stuck together at the pukiest motels on the most hideous of book tours.

Only near the end do the two seem to connect over dialogue about Shaw’s wife. By then, it’s too late to save the film. That late revelation about editing lays more blame on Grieco — like Shaw’s book, he needed editing. Not helping Grieco’s script is the actor playing Lucy, Aubrey Plaza, remembered for TV’s Parks and Recreation. She is no match for Michael Caine, remembered for more than 175 films. Caine noted once that he took roles to pay his mortgage, which may be why he took on Harris Shaw. He excels in places — after all, he IS Michael Caine — in this seemingly one-man show.

He promises good things in his first dandy scene. Director Lina Roessler opened Best Sellers with that dandy scene involving an old Bakelite telephone and a young tabby cat, but thereafter she did not take the bull by the horns. That leaves “Best Sellers” on the remainder table in a steaming pile of Shaw’s barnyard epithet.

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Martha K. Baker (Archived Contributor)

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.