Best Sellers is a fun skewering of the publishing industry, with Michael Caine at his best

Best Sellers (M, 102 minutes)

3 stars

After inheriting the publishing empire left her by her notorious editor dad, Lucy Stanbridge (Aubrey Plaza) has had to watch the whole thing slowly crash down around her as the publishing world changes.

Kept barely alive by a series of Young Author novels that aren't meeting much critical success, Lucy is at a crossroads and seriously considering signing what's left of her company over to rival publisher Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman).

Michael Caine is a tour de force in Best Sellers. Picture: Rialto

Michael Caine is a tour de force in Best Sellers. Picture: Rialto

But Lucy's sharp assistant Rachel (Ellen Wong) discovers a forgotten contract with the company's most notorious early successes, the reclusive author Harris Shaw (Michael Caine).

Decades earlier, Shaw took an advance payment for a novel he never delivered, and in a Quixotic moment of desperation, Lucy heads to the home of the old man to collect on the debt.

When they meet, Lucy discovers Shaw lives right up to his hard-drinking terrifying reputation and she gets an initial and firm 'go away,' not worded that nicely.

But with debts piling up, Shaw reluctantly dusts off an old and undelivered work and brings it into the publishing house.

Back in the day, Shaw had written a clause that he thought would be impossible for the publisher, then Lucy's father, to agree to - that the book must be published unedited.

But Lucy is desperate and will agree to anything, though she also holds Shaw up to another clause, that the author must participate in a tour to promote the publication.

On the road, Shaw is present, but not really participating, undermining book singings and reading events by swearing at customers, physically fighting a critic, all of which, in the age of digital phones and social media have the opposite effect Shaw intends with his curmudgeonly ways.

It seems rather than being cancelled, Shaw starts trending on socials and Lucy glimpses a remote chance that her company might not have to die after all.

In the vein of films like Grumpy Old Men or event the French Tati Danielle, this film works because the audience delights in the curmudgeonliness of its leader, and Michael Caine delivers his boozy, washed-up and furious old man so very well.

The worse his behaviour is, the more we love him.

But the film works also because Michael Caine is so well-matched with his costar.

There isn't a working actor like Caine, in his late 80s still playing in a dozen films a year, and giving his all every time.

Aubrey Plaza, if you're not familiar with her, is a luminous talent. Famous from her April Ludgate role on Parks and Recreation, she is a darling of American independent cinema, absolutely behind the success of quirky charmers like Ingrid Goes West or Safety Not Guaranteed.

She has the Lucille Ball combination of beauty and impeccable comic skills, and in real-life has a fierce uncontained humour that many people don't know how to take.

She released her own book this month, The Legend of the Christmas Witch, and did an interview on the American Today Show dressed as a witch and placed a curse on the hosts. They had absolutely no idea what to do with her. It was great.

Thanks to Plaza driving the Lucy character, Caine has a strong foil to play against and their pairing elevates the film.

There isn't a working actor like Caine, in his late 80s still playing in a dozen films a year, and giving his all every time.

His author has so much fury within him that a lesser actor would struggle conveying, and it's a very strong performance from him.

The film is occasionally a fun skewering of the publishing industry. One of the film's handful of quirky cameo performances includes Veronica Ferres as a noted author looking to jump ship to Lucy's publishing house when it again finds some success.

This story Poking fun of publishing industry first appeared on The Canberra Times.