When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.
Based on the memoirs of Lee Israel, an author who spent most of her career as a celebrity biographer, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is an entertaining biopic about Israel’s descent into a life of crime creating and selling forged letters. The film’s title comes from a line taken from a letter Israel forged as Dorothy Parker, and the film uses that line in a literal sense to apply to Israel’s actions. Her actions are clearly wrong but the film has a lot of fun in exploring the niche world of letter collectors and sellers, whilst also making us understand why Israel was driven down this path. Perhaps the greatest irony is that Israel’s forgeries were so good and an even better showcase for her talents than her previous works and ultimately her actions achieved a degree of infamy for her work that she’d never have achieved otherwise.
The film stars Melissa McCarthy as Israel, and we follow her as her writing career starts to falter and her struggles with alcoholism intensify. Israel’s writing career as a celebrity biographer is fairly niche and in an early scene she rants at her agent about her lack of fame, money and opportunities, comparing herself somewhat unfavourably to Tom Clancy (of Jack Ryan fame). Israel is a tough character to love, she’s often rude and obnoxious and unwilling to take any advice on board, but McCarthy imbues her with a kind of sad warmth that makes you root for her, even as she starts to discover a lucrative sideline in forging letters from deceased authors and playwrights. It’s a role far removed from how we usually see her in bawdy comedies and McCarthy’s excellent display has been nicely recognised with an Oscar nomination. Richard E. Grant plays the secondary lead as Jack Hock, a charming huckster who becomes both a drinking buddy and a partner in crime for Israel, and it’s through the dynamic between these two actors that ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ really thrives.
Both McCarthy and Grant are on top form, guiding the script through both the comedic and darker elements of the narrative and I thought ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ was a really enjoyable, well crafted film.
Directed By: Marielle Heller
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone, Shae D’Lyn, Michael Cyril Creighton, Kevin Carolan, Marc Evan Jackson, Tim Cummings, Christian Navarro, Joanna Adler and Erik LaRay Harvey