Can You Ever Forgive Me?

 

starstarstarstar

 


Melissa McCarthy forges her way into the awards’ season with a no-nonsense portrayal of a writer who discovers an unexpected string to her bow…

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me

Message in a bottle: Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant

  

As represented in Marielle Heller's film, Lee Israel is a pretty reprehensible human being. Besides her horrible hygiene, petty larceny and alcoholism, she is her own worst enemy and is downright rude to everybody else. Inevitably, she loses her job as a copy editor and is forced to face the chill wind of the real world. Behind with her rent and unable to pay for the upkeep of her cat, she realises that her biography of Fanny Brice is not going to lever her out of hock. However, a signed letter from Brice slips out of a book she’s researching and nets her a handy $75. It’s not a very interesting letter but she’s told that more consequential correspondence could fetch considerably more from collectors. Maybe forgery could be the way forward…

 

Often when a comedy star turns to drama, inordinate praise is heaped upon them. Yet as the sad sack who once graced The New York Times bestseller list, Melissa McCarthy is very good indeed. And, of course, she’s funny, too. And that’s what makes Lee Israel so fascinating: she’s a failure with a history, a writer who still has her touch and her pride. Perhaps the film’s most telling line is when Lee’s agent, Morjorie (Jane Curtin), tells her: “You can be an asshole when you’re famous.” But Lee is no longer famous. And therein lies her dilemma. However, she’s a damn good forger and is proud of the fact.

 

Marielle Heller's direction is a little cosy at times but she’s marshalled tart performances from her cast, notably Dolly Wells as an aspiring writer and fan of Lee’s, and Richard E. Grant as an ageing Withnail in New York, a gay wastrel with the audacity of having never heard of Fanny Brice. He is a perfect foil for McCarthy.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky.

 

Dir Marielle Heller, Pro Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas and David Yarnell, Screenplay Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, from the memoir by Lee Israel, Ph Brandon Trost, Pro Des Stephen H. Carter, Ed Anne McCabe, Music Nate Heller, Costumes Arjun Bhasin.

 

Archer Gray Productions-20th Century Fox.

106 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 1 February 2019. Cert. 15.