Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Written by: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone and Jane Curtin
Run Time: 1h 46min
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
5 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Finally! Something Melissa McCarthy can sink her teeth into! She was impressive in this role. Though I wasn’t fired up to see this for some reason, the story didn’t exactly excite me, I knew she wouldn’t disappoint me. And she did more than delight, she proved she’s worth one of those bright shiny trophies they give away at the end of the season. Not just her but her cohort, supporting actor Richard E. Grant. It’s easy to envision this film walking away with several, not only nominations, but wins.
The film is based on true events that happened in New York in 1991. However, you get the feeling it could be set in any town, in any year and happen to anyone. Nothing about this story tells you that the setting is particularly special to the storyline. I rather liked that approach. McCarthy plays Lee Israel, a real-life writer/biographer who once saw for herself a bright future but ends up being convicted of forgery; something she did to pay the bills. What unravels onscreen is why she did it, how she got away with it as long as she did, who her accomplice was and what her ultimate unraveling ends up being. The forgery was her unraveling, of course, but desperation plays a large part. No longer brave enough to write a book of her own words, she writes about other people.
When we meet her, she’s turned to drinking, loses her job, is behind on her rent and on top of that, has a sick cat named Jersey. Jersey is her world. She would have no one else but Jersey had it not been for running into someone with even worse luck, Jack Hock (Grant), a sickly-looking friend she once had drinks with. He uses that moment to get closer to her and with no one else in her life, she clings to him, too. Perhaps once successful himself, he keeps himself alive these days by selling coke that’s cut mostly with a laxative and lives on the streets. Though you’re happy these two at least have someone, you know this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Hoping to not have to do something extreme to make ends meet, Lee visits her agent Marjorie (Curtain) who gives it to her straight. Lee tells her she is close to finishing her biography on Fannie Brice but Marjorie explains that her subjects and her style are not what people are looking for anymore. She needs to change with the times and come up with something better or she needs to look for work in a different field. Rather than looking inward, Lee turns the blame on Marjorie and drowns her sorrows in more scotch, her favorite pastime. While doing research for her book, Lee finds a letter that’s signed by Fanny Brice. Score! She sells it to the owner of a bookstore and thus begins her life of crime. Being a creative woman, she gets so much money from the sale of the letter, why not try again? She knows the people she has studied very well. She decides she needs to be very detailed about the work and ages the paper, writes something to fit the style of the author and everyone in town falls for it. It works perfectly… until it doesn’t.
Though Lee is a mess and a grump you couldn’t stand to be around more than five minutes, you root for her and that’s because of the relationship director Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy accomplished to create before the cameras even started rolling. This deserves Oscar’s attention. I hope he turns his head and takes a look. The soundtrack is beautiful. The structure of the writing is spectacular. The directing is spot on and if you want examples of incredible character acting performances, look no further. It’s all here. The title is also something that intrigued me. Who does Lee want to forgive her? Her ex-girlfriend, her agent, the friends she’s always cranky toward, the people she defrauded or is it herself?