Recently, reports attributed to Sir Michael Caine indicated that he had performed his last acting role in 2021’s Best Sellers. Not so fast, Caine now says. The problem he said is the lack of decent parts for a man in his 80s. Acknowledging some health issues, parts are harder to come by.
Fellow actors Gene Hackman, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson have retired. Contemporaries Sean Connery, Peter Finch, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Christopher Plummer, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed have all passed. Of Caine’s acting generation, a few remain including Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, Jane Fonda, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Dern, Maggie Smith, Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones and Judi Dench. That’s a pretty darn good group.
Best Sellers is a comedy-drama that is mostly, but not totally, predictable. The story was a comfortable feel, which is an enjoyable thing, although the creativity is in the margins.
Caine plays forgotten writer Harris Shaw, who has one major hit to his name, and then nothing since. He’s the stereotypical grumpy, reclusive curmudgeon who wants nothing to do with the outside world.
Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) is Lucy Stanbridge, the heir to her father’s small, but distinguished publishing house. She’s trying to keep from having to sell the company and settles on the notion of getting one more manuscript from Shaw, who contractually owes one more book.
Shaw is conflicted over turning over his manuscript that looks like it’s been in development for years. Stanbridge wants to edit it for publication, but Shaw resists, so according to his contract, he must go on a book tour to marginally promote the book, but it must be published as written.
Thus begins a cross-country trek of bars and dives, when Shaw sabotages a more media-friendly approach by refusing to read from his book, be interviewed, or otherwise helpful in the effort.
Stanbridge has financed the publication of Shaw’s book from her trust fund, so she has a lot riding on the success of the book. Even with the reticence of Shaw to promote his own book, and the lack of sales, Stanbridge is successful in turning Him into an online cult hero of sorts with young people who aren’t even familiar with his previous book.
Plaza is quite good as the well-meaning, but increasingly frustrated Stanbridge. Her character has an underlying quirkiness, but she rises to the occasion as the adult in the room. Stanbridge plays a sort of mentor to her young assistant Rachel, played by Ellen Wong, who has her own quirky moments, but offers her boss insightful advice. The two of them make a great team, almost as good as Plaza and Caine.
I watched this film with someone who guessed many of the turns in the story, same as I did when I first saw it. I will not describe the rest of the film, if you are interested, see it. If Caine had not been in the film, I wouldn’t have noticed it. Despite the predictably, it’s an entertaining story with great casting and subtle, but solid direction.
Early in his career, Caine played many flawed, egocentric characters. His middle years were spent alternating between character roles and leads, in both good good and terrible films. He explained how his early years of poverty instilled a drive to accept all roles. In his later career, Caine has capitalized on being Michael Caine for some meaty character roles and returned to taking some gritty, damaged characters.
I am glad to hear that Sir Michael will continue to act, as long as his health holds out and interesting parts appear.