Indie dramedy Best Sellers (2021) gets off to a rocky start before settling into something reasonably enjoyable, but it’s mainly just a reminder that Aubrey Plaza is worth watching in anything. She plays Lucy Stanbridge, the heiress of a boutique New York publishing house on its very last legs. Lucy is determined to keep the family business afloat, valiantly resisting the buyout offers of her old flame Jack (Scott Speedman), but the catalogue’s titles aren’t selling and the manuscript shelves are bare. Lucy launches one last gasp to save the house when she unearths an old contract her father signed with curmudgeonly author Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), a one-hit wonder who never delivered his follow-up. Lucy and her supportive assistant Rachel (Ellen Wong) track Shaw down and, despite his profane, deeply unpleasant objections, pry a novel out of him titled The Future is X-Rated. The subsequent book tour begins as a desperate ploy to engineer a best seller, but instead becomes a chance for both Lucy and Shaw to wrestle with their legacies.
Best Sellers presents as a light-hearted comedy drama, what with Plaza headlining and Caine having a grand old time being mean-spirited and cantankerous. This makes its clumsy opening act rough going, as the script isn’t particularly funny, overestimating the humor of Shaw’s cruelty and Lucy’s earnest incompetence. The film also doesn’t have a convincing grasp of the publishing business, which makes the setting flimsy, a convenient milieu to mash odd-couple characters together. Eventually, the emotional beats do start to work thanks to decent chemistry between Caine and Plaza, who engineer a real relationship out of the cardboard backdrop. The second half of the film succeeds, mildly, as a dual character study, provided you don’t peer too closely at an overall scenario that doesn’t ring true. Painlessly watched, for the most part, but easily missed.