Can You Ever Forgive Me? is directed by Marielle Heller. It stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. The film is based on the true story of Lee Israel.
Lee Israel was once an esteemed celebrity biographer, but in the early 1990s, her glory days are long behind her. Her crass and unflinching attitude and lifestyle have earned her the ire of her publisher, and give her a less-than-favorable reputation around town. With little money to her name and many bills to pay, she reluctantly sells a cherished letter, and later sells letters she stumbles across while researching her next book. Upon discovering the value of celebrity letters, she puts her literary talents to use and begins forging them, selling to many shops around New York. But it isn’t long before she lands herself in hot water and ends up on an FBI list due to her being suspected of fraud. Will she find a way to continue profiting, or will her devious ways catch up with her?
Melissa McCarthy is hilarious in the right material, but this hasn’t exactly been her year, with Life of the Party and The Happytime Murders not exactly getting the most glowing of reviews. Fortunately, Can You Ever Forgive Me? will likely be the film that breaks the comedienne out of her recent rut. It’s a true story that’s as shocking as it is hilarious. While the narrative does have a few minor issues, I doubt audiences will be disappointed by what they get in this movie.
McCarthy steals the show as Lee Israel, and she’s hardly a model citizen. She drinks at work. She curses. She doesn’t give a damn who she offends. She likes her cat more than most people. Her best friend is a gay British man who’s as devious as she is. Yet beneath her rough exterior, we have someone who is clearly vulnerable and misunderstood. It’s a great “crime doesn’t pay” story, and she brings every facet of it to life without turning the experience into a cheap joke fest. At one point, a character tells her she's "a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker. By the time the film ended, I agreed.
While Richard E. Grant must play second fiddle to McCarthy’s Israel, there’s no denying he’s a riot throughout the entire movie. His hedonistic lifestyle and platonic relationship with Israel drive many of the movie’s best scenes. It’s truly impossible not to laugh when this man is on screen, whether he’s shelling out the one-liners or on the receiving end of them. The man absolutely deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here.
The remainder of the supporting cast does their jobs fine, and while no one else gets the same emphasis as the leading duo of the film, no one is miscast either. Stories about crime not paying are certainly nothing new, but the brilliant casting and witty script based on Israel’s own memoirs makes for a hilarious and heartbreaking experience alike. With a running time of just under 110 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome either.
The only major flaw in the film is a lack of development towards other characters and subplots. We’re introduced to many people along the way who Israel apparently has a history with, but in many cases we don’t quite get the full picture. The biggest wasted opportunity in the film is between Israel and a female bookshop owner she befriends during her “letter fraud,” but the movie disappointingly puts this on the backburner and never gives it the proper emphasis. Even a scene in a park between Lee and someone who is apparently an estranged relative feels like a wasted opportunity since we never get a clear picture of who this person is. Still, these are minor flaws in the grand scheme of things, and, pardon the bad joke, but I CAN forgive them.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a surprisingly hilarious comedy-drama who’s true story is stranger than fiction. With one of McCarthy’s best performances ever, and a hilarious supporting actor in the form of Richard E. Grant, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one getting some attention come Oscar season. Strongly recommended.
Rating: Three out of four stars.
DISCLAIMER: All images in this review are the property of their respective owners, including Fox Searchlight Pictures and Archer Grey Productions. For promotional use only. All rights reserved.