Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Rating4.5 / 5
Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells
December 6 2018
Twentieth Century Fox
Director Marielle Heller explores an obscure historical figure, powered by a tour de force lead performance from Melissa McCarthy.
No matter my reservations about Melissa McCarthy, Lee Israel is seemingly the role she was born to play. Shabby, foul-mouthed, misanthropic. A sharp-witted woman who held the prejudices of the world against itself. It’s the persona McCarthy has played for many years, but in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, it’s the first time it feels complete. It’s a performance that not only falls into her lap; it’s one of immense strength and care. The kind that doesn’t just support a film, but elevates it.
Israel was quite the character. She was a talented biographer who found success in the ‘80s and then lost it by refusing to adapt to a progressing industry. She was an alcoholic, neglected personal hygiene and viewed the world from behind a wall. But she was also kind of brilliant, because in her destitution, she found a loophole and exploited it with skill and crime. It’s astonishing the ease with which McCarthy wrangles all these dimensions into a frustrating and often sympathetic figure.
But the movie also works because it has an interesting story to tell, and it painfully illustrates how expectations in life can be cruel and nasty. Israel conned people by forging intimate personal letters from famous authors and then sold them to novelty book stores, not thinking anyone would really care. She just needed the money to pay her rent and tend to her sick cat, you see. What’s a few fake words on scraps of paper anyway? Completely harmless. What she didn’t count on was that, like the movie, sports and music worlds, there are fanatics out there who gather in hordes to collect such letters, and they usually know a fake when they see one. Or in Israel’s case, four hundred.
So, what began as a desperate deception ended up as a federal offence. There are so many ways Can You Ever Forgive Me? could’ve played out this history, but director Marielle Heller picks all the right notes and somehow manages to find perfect equilibrium between tragedy and comedy.
There is also a wonderfully tender performance by Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock, another con artist who becomes Israel’s foil and accomplice. Both characters have been rejected by society and explore their homosexual pursuits in vastly different ways, but they share a common understanding of human nature and the tricky ways to survive it. On its own, Can You Ever Forgive Me? has all the ingredients for greatness. Throw in Melissa McCarthy and you’ve got something special.
Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox