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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Lina Roessler
scr Anthony Grieco
prd Jonathan Vanger, Pierre Even, Cassian Elwes, Arielle Elwes, Wayne Marc Godfrey
with Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Speedman, Ellen Wong, Cary Elwes, Veronica Ferres, Luc Morissette, Frank Schorpion, Florence Situ, Philip Le Maistre, Linda Nourse, Sebree Laurie
release US 17.Sep.21,
21/Canada Universal 1h42
BERLIN FILM FEST
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A snappy comedy centred on a generation gap, this movie is brisk enough to hold the interest, layering bigger ideas under a silly situation. Director Lina Roessler tells the story with a jaunty sensibility that plays on character eccentricities and narrative gimmicks. Little about the plot is unpredictable, but the tension between the characters touches a few nerves. It's also a gentle celebration of the power of literature.
In need of a bestselling novel, young publisher Lucy (Plaza) turns to reclusive author Harris (Caine), whose contract reveals that he owes the company a book. Hopefully this will save the company from a takeover by sexy shark Jack (Speedman). Harris is a cantankerous grump who, after chasing Lucy and her assistant Rachel (Wong) off at gunpoint, begrudgingly gives them his first manuscript in 40 years. But now he also has to do a book tour to promote the novel. And while his misbehaviour drives Lucy crazy, it touches a nerve with new fans.
Under the movie's bright and silly, serious things are quietly simmering. These mainly come from backstories, such as Harris' quiet grief over the loss of his wife and his editor-publisher friend, Lucy's father. On the other hand, he acts like a spoiled child, abrasively provoking everyone he encounters. Of course, his vile curmudgeonly antics increase his social media fame, although selling books is another issue. Through all of this, there are continual hints about where the story is heading.
The cast has fun playing exaggerated characters, each a potential scene-stealer. Plaza tamps down her usual quirkiness as the cheerful-cynical Lucy, bringing depth to Lucy's tenacity as she flails to save her father's company. Caine goes for broke as the cranky Harris, adding sensitivity beneath the surface to make Harris likeable. Speedman is charming as both the anodyne villain of the piece and the somewhat obvious romcom foil. And Elwes has a hilarious cameo as a flamboyantly snooty book critic.
Gurgling under the goofiness is the fact that publishing is a fading industry, and hipsters would rather buy a t-shirt featuring Harris than his hardback book. Grieco's script gently reaffirms the joys of reading, while a more intriguing theme explores how each of us, in one way or another, feels like a fraud. This allows the story to take on some additional meaning as it heads into its unsurprisingly sentimental final act. And it's all wrapped up in a way that leaves us feeling warm.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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