After years on television, it was her raunchy turn in Bridesmaids that made Melissa McCarthy into a movie star. Since then she has starred in a string of comedies written specifically for her including The Boss, Life of the Party, and The Happytime Murders. Met with lukewarm reviews and underperforming box office, the material failed to take advantage of McCarthy’s talent. She’s done dramas before—see her work in 2014’s underseen St. Vincent—but Can You Forgive Me? Really gives McCarthy a chance to show her versatility, and the result is the best performance of her career thus far.
Author Lee Israel (McCarthy) once had a book on The New York Times Bestseller list, but when we first meet her in 1991, those days are long gone. No one is interested in her work on a biography of Fanny Brice. Her longtime agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) is avoiding her calls. Broke, alcoholic, desperate to pay rent and get medical care for her beloved cat, her options are limited. She starts selling off her possessions, among them a signed letter from Katharine Hepburn, for which she makes a hefty sum. Realizing there’s a market for signed celebrity letters, Lee hits on an idea: why not craft interesting, personal letters, and forge the signatures? She begins forging such names as Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich; before long, she’s making a decent living.
Based on a true story, screenwriters Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty worked with Lee’s own 2008 memoir (she passed away in 2014), which gives you a unique look into events. It would be natural to wonder just how much of the story is true, but since this woman so proudly profited off her crimes, there’s little reason to believe her memoir wouldn’t be truthful. Can You Ever Forgive Me? doesn’t attempt to make Lee a glamourous criminal. She’s a has been, living on the fringes of New York City in a fleabag apartment with her cat. Not interested in people, her only friend is Jack Sock (Richard E. Grant) a fellow drinker, living on the fringes, who eventually becomes her partner in crime. Lee and Jack come to enjoy each other’s company, but its because they both inhabit the same dark, bleak world. the only light in Lee’s life comes in the form of Anna (Dolly Wells), a small bookstore owner who worships her writing, and offers the possibility of a relationship.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a character study about mental illness. Lee Israel was a delusional woman caught in a cycle of alcoholism, and poverty. In a career best performance, Melissa McCarthy captures the bleak, loneliness of her life as it spins out of control. Richard E. Grant is wonderful as her male counterpart of sorts, and Jane Curtin as Lee’s agent, manages to steal every scene she’s in.
The DVD includes a few extras including deleted scenes, audio commentary and the featurettes “Elevator Pitch,” “Becoming Lee Israel,” “Likely Friends” and “A Literary World” plus a Lee Israel letter gallery; and unit photography.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Movie title: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Director(s): Marielle Heller
Actor(s): Melissa McCarthy , Anna Deavere Smith, Alice Kremelberg, Julie Ann Emery , Joanna Adler, Richard E. Grant
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama