Can You Ever Forgive Me? marked a rare departure for me – a return to actually WANTING to watch a Melissa McCarthy movie after the godawful 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, but that’s because this is (a) a drama, (b) she’s not shouting a lot, and (c) it looked pretty damn good.
Will she turn me around the same way Blake Lively did with A Simple Favour?
It’s 1991, New York, and she gets fired from her job. In her time, author Lee Israel (McCarthy) wrote a number of profiles of famous actors and actresses, such as Katherine Hepburn, even receiving a personal, signed letter from the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star, but as we join her, her writing career has come to an end through a combination of people just not liking her much, and alcoholism, and she’s about to discover an alternate income path, even though it’s not quite on the level.
She hangs out a lot with her best friend, Jack Hock (Richard E Grant), who’s a functioning alcoholic, but he’s still not drinking quite as much as Grant did in Withnail and I. Like him, all her best years are behind her, and we can all have that feeling at times, but when her flat is shown to be bug-ridden, it might not just be a problem caused by a lazy landlord, but also that she’s so remiss with her house-cleaning that she doesn’t even knows that her cat has crapped under the bed a million times.
As you might guess, she’s very unconventional and doesn’t like fancy parties or people who show off.
When in dire straits (no, not the band), she chances across a letter that’s hidden in a forgotten book in a local library, which is signed by Fanny Brice, and since she can make a few bucks from it, and since she’s desperate for money, she takes it upon herself to fake some more…
I knew nothing of Lee Israel’s strory before, but no doubt, given that they’ve made a film about her, I was expecting it won’t end well, especially when you start biting off more than you can chew. The title comes from one of the letters she writes as Dorothy Parker, and before I knew the outcome of the film, I was guessing that it would be reflective of said outcome. Was I right? Well, that’s why you’ll have to watch it to find out.
I don’t want to say too much else, so all I’ll say is that once the premise is set during the first half, it gets more dramatic in the second half and both leads do really come into their own, even though they’re playing characters both of which have rather drifted through life. In addition, it’s 1991 so everyone still uses a fax machine, and at one point, Grant says during one interaction between the two, “I always did want to be an actor(!)”
It also highlighted the fact that there are even fairs where you can buy authenticated, signed letters from famous writers and they go for a pretty penny, so you can understand why she did it.
The film has a great supporting cast of people to whom she sells, and I also like it when she asks Jack for his life plan, and he said he didn’t have one and thought he’d just figure it out as he went along. I also know that feeling.
Finally, before I discuss some spoilers behind a spoiler header, Can You Ever Forgive Me? brings us a superb performance from McCarthy, which shows she should certainly do more drama than the junk comedies she turns out, and I’m glad that the original choice for the role of Lee Israel, Julianne Moore. Richard E Grant is on top form as ever. Both have been given Oscar nods. I don’t think that McCarthy has earned that, but it’s long overdue for Grant.
Running time: 107 minutes
Release date: February 1st 2019
Studio: 20th Century Fox Film Co. Ltd
Format: 2.39:1 (Panavision Millennium DXL)
Director: Marielle Heller
Producers: Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell
Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Music: Nate Heller
Lee Israel: Melissa McCarthy
Jack Hock: Richard E Grant
Anna: Dolly Wells
Alan Schmidt: Ben Falcone
Andre: Gregory Korostishevsky
Marjorie: Jane Curtin
Paul: Stephen Spinella
Kurt: Christian Navarro
Agent Doyle: Pun Bandhu
Agent Solonas: Erik LaRay Harvey
Glen: Brandon Scott Jones
Nell: Shae D’lyn
Rachel: Rosal Colon
Elaine: Anna Deavere Smith
Lloyd: Marc Evan Jackson
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.