Can You Ever Forgive Me?
1 February 2019 (UK)
When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.
Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant
Based on Lee Israel’s confessional autobiography about her involvement in literary forgery, Can You Ever Forgive Me? becomes this year’s Oscar snub in my eyes. It’s a wonderfully told story about two frank and repugnant misfits, finding friendship and enjoyment with one another as well as their criminal lives. Lives that are missing nurture and care, and therefore both have become steely, hard people with little sympathy. An excellent screenplay as well as top-notch acting and directing combine to make a film with real truth in its heart, with an edge that’s surprisingly moving. But hey, Black Panther really knocked my emotional socks off with that CGI war rhinoceros(!) And Bohemian Rhapsody… I just love how it worshiped Queen and was barely anything other than an excuse to sell another greatest hits album. Can I ever forgive that? I think not.
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Heat) is Lee Israel, an author with a failing career who starts to forge letters from deceased authors and playwrights when rent and vet bills for her alining cat begin to stack up. During her newfound criminal career, she meets flamboyant drug dealer Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Gosford Park) and the two bond over their alcoholism and hatred for other people. Jack is eventually brought in to help with her plans as whispers around the literary world say there are forgeries being sold, and things become all too real for Israel as the FBI get involved.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? works so well due to the flaming chemistry between McCarthy and Grant. They manage to turn what are pretty unsympathetic and mean spirited people into your new best pals. Just watching them revel in each other’s company as they prank call the various people who have wronged them previously is delightful. Their whiskey-soaked bitchery provides a few rare moments when you forget you’re watching a character because they’ve just become people. I never expected to see this from either actor, especially McCarthy who mostly resides in comedies not to my taste. It’s an excellent turn for her and I would love to see her in more of these dramatic roles.
90s New York City is also painstakingly recreated by director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) who gives the city a dreary life through its windy autumn streets and characterful brown bookshops. It’s all beautifully photographed and only helped me sink deeper into the stories, setting, and characters. The direction may seem restrained, but a good deal of work has gone into the lingering shots of McCarthy as guilt slowly overtakes her face. It’s subtle work but often elevates the film.
So thanks to two storming performances and an empathetic camera from Marielle Heller Can You Ever Forgive Me? triumphs as this year’s best dramedy. It knows when to have claws and when to retract them. Just like its central character Lee Israel, the films tough exterior eventually falls back to reveal a tender center. Case and point? What other film could drop the C-Bomb so tenderly in its final scene? I think that’s none.
McCarthy & Grant are superb
Brilliantly balanced script
Nuanced story about finding your voice