Art, according to Bestsellers director Lina Roessler, “is a different way of breathing”. This is evidenced in Roessler’s directorial debut feature Bestsellers.
Bestsellers follows Harris Shaw (Micheal Caine) and Lucy Standbridge (Aubrey Plaza) as they embark on a book tour meant to prevent Lucy’s business from falling into the outstretched hands of Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman).
For Roessler, who has experience in the film and television industry as an actress and screenwriter, having the opportunity to bring this particular story to life was a gift.
“I was an actor in theater, film and television and a writer for many years before I started making short films,” Roessler said. “Before that, I had made a short story book and that’s where these short films came from. When this opportunity presented itself to me it was after [exploring] different paths in my life and it was almost like a gift. The producer, Cassian Elwes, saw my work and sent me the script.
In the film, the main characters have led radically different lifestyles.
Prior to the tour, Harris had not published a book for nearly half a century. Going on tour is the reluctant result of lack of money for his reclusive lifestyle. Harris smokes heavily, drinks, and rewrites manuscripts with only persistent calls and his cat for company.
Lucy is the editor-in-chief of Standbridge Publishing Company, a business founded by her father. After an unsuccessful attempt to sell young adult books, Lucy’s business is about to close. That is until Lucy’s assistant Rachel (Ellen Wong) reads Harris’ contract and learns he owes the company a book.
The contract signed by Harris allows him to publish his book without having “the incompetent hand of molested nepotism.”[ing] [his] words. “In return for that, he has to market the book in whatever way suits him best. For Lucy, that means a book tour. From this point on, it’s clear that this duo of a hardened loner and alcoholic and a spirited gifteder prepares for a cheesy comedy about the importance of friendship.
After reading compatriot Anthony Greico’s Nicholls Fellowship Award winning screenplay, Roessler found herself able to understand the characters’ journey.
“When I read the script I was able to see it. I understood the characters. I kind of bonded with both – both Harris and Lucy. I could put myself in their shoes even though the ‘one is a cranky, alcoholic old man and the other is a super achiever,’ Roessler said.
“I really like this idea of a surrogate father-daughter love story going on between them. I was excited to explore this kind of relationship between a much older man and a young woman just starting out. [in her career]. There was a lot to like about the story.
The first half of the film is based on the depiction of the illusion of a strange relationship between Lucy and Harris. Lucy wants Harris to read her book while on tour. Harris thinks that taking a book tour is “bullshit” and makes no secret of expressing his position clearly by pissing on his book at every location on the tour. He’s going viral for these acts, but unfortunately his newfound fame isn’t helping book sales.
Halfway through, there is an abrupt change of tone in the film. The film stops trying to float between social commentary and dramatic comedy. It finds its place by removing its predictable comedic mask and putting the emphasis back on the chemistry between our tracks. It allows the story to become a more realistic and honest portrayal of how art, love, and our relationships come together to allow us to step into our own and save ourselves.
“Lucy and Harris both feel like impostors, but they don’t admit it. Lucy takes flight [the] layers her mask and finds out who she is as a person and her authentic self, ”Roessler said.
Bestsellers is not a perfect movie; it has its faults. He treats his audience as impressionable and naive, assuming we would somehow easily believe that Lucy and Rachel, as millennials, wouldn’t be equipped to handle marketing to their age group, as the plot often implies. We are expected to believe that YA, a multi-million dollar industry, had absolutely no interest in the books that Lucy was publishing. And that somehow in modern internet culture Harris going viral hasn’t helped sell books – especially if he’s as good a writer as history has us believe. His commentaries on the internet and literary culture are present in the dialogue Grieco has created, but these elements are not sufficiently developed for this to be a thought-provoking play. It’s clear that the movie didn’t turn out to be the complex, critical piece that Grieco apparently wanted it to be.
Roessler is open to criticism. “Not everyone will like it. [It may] not [be] their cup of tea, but that’s fine too ”.
However, Bestsellers is funny. Does it smell Hallmarky sometimes? Yes. Has the score been overused as a means of defining emotion? Yes too. Has he managed to make a fully developed commentary on the Internet and literary culture in the 21st century? Well, to quote Harris, “bullshit”. But, despite its predictability, it’s clear that love was put into this story. He manages to emphasize the importance of flourishing, and while the execution was a bit wobbly, the chemistry between Caine and Plaza is undeniable.
Roessler opened up about what to expect after the film is released. “I’m developing two other feature film projects with the same producers, which is really cool. Because it means I did something right and we all really enjoy working together.
She ends with advice for anyone trying to succeed in the film and television industry.
“It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. There are so many [people who tell you no], so many negative things but if you can remember why you are doing it and if you cannot imagine doing anything else then you know you have come to the right place.
It’s safe to say that director Lina Roessler has come to the right place.
Best Sellers is currently available on VOD and will open at the Princess Theater on September 24, 2021.