Would you believe that Can You Ever Forgive Me? wasn’t playing anywhere near me when it was originally released in theaters? I was waiting to see Melissa McCarthy show off her dramatic chops for a while after seeing the trailer and hearing good word of mouth out of Telluride, and it didn’t come where I was. It was at the art house theater back home, but there wasn’t enough time to see it. Now, after waiting patiently to see what all the hype’s all about with this, we shall see what’s being forgiven.
McCarthy plays author Lee Israel. Once a prominent best-selling biographer of her time hasn’t published anything in a while and has put her on hard times. She doesn’t have enough money to pay her rent or enough to get medicine for her sick cat. But as her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) said to her that nobody wants to read a Fanny Brice biography. She also isn’t Tom Clancy where her books aren’t popular enough. Once she stumbles upon a letter from Brice while researching, she gets the idea of forging letters from famous writers and selling them for money. Yes, this is true as stated at the very beginning.
Director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) tackles her second movie, and she takes on this true story and makes it interesting. The look of Manhattan in the early 1990s looked authentic to where it just seems like it would be a downer of a city to live in around that time. But Heller handled this story in spades for a story about an unlikable person. This is somebody who forges letters, signatures and making things up in those letters to make the content more interesting to the buyer.
Writers Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) have put to a well-told screenplay, based on Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name. Having a good balance of humor and its serious moments didn’t detail any scene. Most of the writing is really good when it’s just characters talking. Normally, when you have a drama with a star known for comedies, it would seem like an Oscar-bait type movie? Not here. It’s an engaging story that you’re just wondering when everything comes into play.
McCarthy truly carried this movie, and that’s because she didn’t have to be silly but playing a serious role. And I do like her, but some of the movies she’s in, that aren’t from Paul Feig, aren’t good. But I love she’s going down the road of a comedian doing dramatic work in the same line of Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. Should we be rooting for Lee and what she’s doing? Personally, I don’t think so since is a federal crime. But I can see that she has a purpose for doing so.
Not only is her performance as Lee Israel daunting, she really makes this real-life author her own where it doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same actress in those comedies. This is probably the second best role to come out of McCarthy’s career thus far. Am I able to forgive her for the heap of garbage that was The Happytime Murders? Time may tell.
If there was anybody to steal the spotlight from McCarthy, that would be the talented Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock, a gay British man whom Lee met at a party one time. This is a performance that’s gonna be talked about for month to come because there’s a lot of charisma all around his character. The scenes he shares with his co-star brings out the great chemistry between. His character in here is the type you want to have a drink with and get drunk when being a part in funny conversations. Can we see Grant in more movies, please?
Other supporting roles stood out that shouldn’t be left out, including the beautiful Dolly Wells as Anna, the bookshop owner that might have a crush on Lee, and Ben Falcone (who thankfully didn’t direct this) as Alan Schmidt, a memorabilia dealer.
This is a crime she was committing back then. She forged more than 400 letters on a typewriter that included popular figures like Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward. There was no internet at the time to really noticed if it’s fake, but they do have a team to know deeply. Israel stated that she didn’t feel any guilt at all when she was doing this and that just a way into feeling like a real writer again since she had writer’s block. But I have to commend her for pulling this off for a long time without being caught.
The film tends to be a bit standard since it’s based on a true story. While that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, it does have a bit of a slow pace after a while. But it’s able to pick back up whenever there’s a scene with McCarthy and Grant. It also gives you a train of thought of wondering if we ever did something wrong, will it come back to haunt you later on?
Overall, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was satisfying. This is one of those stories that I never heard of prior to this coming out, and the word to perfectly describe this is fascinating. I wouldn’t have the ball to do what she did back then. While not everything was perfect, it’s the Oscar-worthy performances from McCarthy and Grant and the script that made it worth the watch. Heller crafted a story of showing someone’s strive for success in a world of loneliness, but don’t know the consequences that might follow.