By midlandsmovies, Mar 8 2019 12:36PM
Can You Ever Forgive Me (2019) Dir. Marielle Heller
This biographical film stars Melissa McCarthy as real-life writer Lee Israel who in the 90s confessed to forging letters from famous authors as her own career was in the doldrums.
After the failure of her biography of Estée Lauder, Lee Israel is broke and turns to drink as she berates her agent (and everyone else) for the career struggles she is facing. After selling her possessions to make ends meet, she discovers a hidden letter by Fanny Brice which she sells for cash but is told that if the artefact wasn’t so bland she could receive even more money. This sparks an idea to Lee that using similar typewriters from the era she can use her writing skills to imitate the authors’ letters and sell them to collectors.
She is soon blacklisted as her deception is revealed but she uses local drug-dealing (and fellow drinker) Jack Hock – a flamboyant Richard E. Grant – to sell them on her behalf. Their love-hate relationship has unexpected consequences for Lee whilst the FBI begins an investigation into her shady dealings.
McCarthy and Grant earned nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations for their roles and it’s easy to see why. Cards on the table here – I find McCarthy’s previous performances like sandpaper where I have winced at her condescending adlibs delivered in a continuous slew of unfunny comedies for the last decade.
However, this role showcases her dramatic ‘chops’ and I see, and hope, her career ends up heading far more into this category. Grant is channelling a bit of his legendary Withnail performance but is so much more likeable here – especially when pleading with McCarthy’s Lee about being her only friend.
The film starts slow but the characters are fully fleshed out as we warm to McCarthy who moves from spiteful and selfish to a much more vulnerable woman coping with her flaws and bad deeds. Unobtrusive directing helps focus on the characters and it really is the McCarthy and Grant show here.
Can I ever forgive her for those awful comedies? Well, based on this performance, I’d be a fool not to.