REVIEW: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

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“I’m a 51-year-old who likes cats better than people.” That’s how Lee Israel describes herself in Marielle Heller’s film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” It’s a biopic with Israel as its subject and an adaptation of her 2008 memoir of the same name. It follows her experience as a struggling writer who ends up making ends meet by forging coveted letters from famous deceased authors.

Melissa McCarthy makes a welcomed dramatic turn playing Lee Israel who has fallen on hard times after her writing career stalls. She’s a depressed and cash-strapped alcoholic who can’t keep a job and owes months of back-rent on her filthy Manhattan apartment. She can’t get an advance for a new book because she has burned every bridge her agent (a wonderful Jane Curtin) has laid down for her.

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You know where things go from here. A desperate Lee begins forging old letters and selling them to bookstores around the city. The true story goes that she sold over 400 documents, a remarkable crime streak that would seem impossible to pull off. The real Lee Israel was an unrepentant sham and the film definitely captures that. But Heller makes an obvious attempt to lace Israel’s story with sympathy.

McCarthy gives a good performance although it doesn’t require as much range as it may seem. She burrows down into Israel’s unlikability and isn’t asked to go much further. She still manages to give us an good character with several interesting layers. Take what is probably her deepest character flaw – the near arrogant insistence that she is a great writer and everyone needs to recognize it. At one point she states “I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker”. And the film offers no grand transformation. She maintains this stance to the very end even finding a way to use it to rationalize her crimes.

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Richard E. Grant is getting a lot of attention for playing Lee’s only non-feline friend Jack. Grant is effortlessly good in what is a flamboyant and pretty showy performance. Jack is a fellow boozer and much like Lee he’s far from the most likable person. McCarthy and Grant have really nice chemistry and that makes for some entertaining back-and-forths between two otherwise shady people. Unfortunately I began to sour on their banter after a while.

Even though we know how things are going to end, Heller along with screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty give us enough to sink our teeth into. But it’s McCarthy who pulls off the impossible. She not only has us caring (to some degree) about such an unpleasant curmudgeon but also (in one way or another) she has us relating to her as well. That can’t be an easy task and it’s just enough to carry the film over the finish line.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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27 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

  1. A solid review. I’ll wait and rent it. It seems like a long shot for her to win.
    Who do you predict will win the Best Actress award? I suspect Lady Gaga will win but I’d like to see Glenn Close win it. She might as a token gesture as a lifetime achievement award.

  2. I thought this was just fine. I didn’t love nor hate it. I don’t think McCarthy is Oscar worthy in this at all, but I do think it’s her best dramatic performance.

    • Agree on both. I’m pretty in the middle too. I think the performances do elevate it and the story is interesting enough. Not all that hungry to see it again.

  3. I do want to see this not just because of its subject matter but also it’s because it’s directed by Marielle Heller as I really liked Diary of a Teenage Girl. Plus, I hope there’s good things happening for Richard E. Grant who I think often gets overlooked.

  4. We just saw this movie a couple days ago. I’d have to say I agree with your review on all counts – I’m glad I saw it, but it isn’t my favorite movie of the year. Some wonderful performing by McCarthy and Grant, for sure!!

    • I have a hard time putting my finger on what it’s missing. As you said, good performances and I too am glad I saw it. It just didn’t stand out for me like it did some people.

      • I think for me, she was just a tad too unlikable. A few scenes pulled at my heart like the scene with the cat and the scene when she reads her statement in court, but overall she didn’t quite get there for me. I wanted to see just a slight glimmer of change in her attitude, a sort of “lesson learned” kind of thing – but I didn’t feel quite satisfied in that regard.

      • YES! Such an unrepentant attitude and general unlikability. You never get a sense of remorse which is kind of fascinating but in this case not particularly fun to watch.

      • Exactly. I really think they tried for it in that courtroom scene, but so much of her mess, it seemed to me, was of her own making. Even with her original writing struggles. Her agent told her to just play the game a little more, just be a little more personable, and she could get her paid to write again. But she didn’t even want to do that much. Even her friends she ended up treating pretty badly in the end. And then to top it off with no remorse, it was just a little too much for me. But again, still glad I saw it for the performances alone.

      • Yes. Completely of her own making. It seems like they used her tough financial situation to create some sympathy. But as you allude to, even that is of her own making. Hard to latch onto that attempted sympathy.

    • I liked it well enough. It definitely kept my interest but didn’t leave a huge impression. I definitely like this Melissa McCarthy better than the one we get in many of her comedies.

  5. I adored the movie! So glad it got 3 nominations, McCarthy and Grant were such a great team and it was nice to finally see Melissa in a good movie, all the other ones with her in it from 2018 were not worthy of her

  6. Pingback: Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Step into film

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