Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir Marielle Heller
scr Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
prd Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell
with Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro, Pun Bandhu, Erik LaRay Harvey, Brandon Scott Jones, Anna Deavere Smith
release US 19.Oct.18, UK 1.Feb.18
18/US Fox 1h46
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Another round: McCarthy and Grant

wells curtin falcone
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Based on an extraordinary true story, this low-key comedy-drama is a terrific showcase for Melissa McCarthy's acting skill, which gets lost in her sillier projects. It's a punchy tale about artistic frustration and the need to find an outlet for expression, even an illegal one. And while the events are actually rather serious, they unfold with plenty of offbeat wit and warmth.

In the early 1990s, author Lee Israel (McCarthy) is struggling to find a publisher for her next book. Her agent (Curtin) can't help, mainly because the curmudgeonly Lee has burned every bridge behind her. Then one day, almost by accident, she realises she's rather good at forging letters from famous wits like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. And collectors pay handsomely for them. Now able to pay her bills again, she befriends the nutty loner Jack (Grant), who helps her with the scam. But the FBI is on her trail.

Director Heller grounds the story realistically while infusing scenes with wry humour. Lee is a fascinating character, drab and grouchy but with a lacerating wit. Her put-downs and drunken antics have left her with no friends, aside from her equally tetchy cat. A fellow miscreant, Jack is overtly gay, while for Lee it's merely suggested, so this certainly isn't a romance. But the story's heart lies in their unusual friendship.

McCarthy is excellent as a woman who loves to tease people and is perhaps too smart to understand how she's hurting them. It's a dark performance that's still hilarious, as Lee refuses to tone down her cynicism for anyone. Opposite her, Grant steals his scenes as the larger-than-life Jack. Breezy and funny, he's a lost soul who compensates with his biting attitude. Side characters are also sharply drawn, perhaps because Lee would never let anyone boring get near her.

Even with this jagged humour, the film feels oddly underpowered. The story feels inadvertent, as Lee drifts into her life of crime and never really takes it seriously (it's more like a literary challenge to her). Even so, this is an astute look at a woman who finds her voice after writing about (and as) other people for so long. Her journey is amusing and painful, which makes it both entertaining and involving. And the fact that her book about these crimes (which this film is based on) became a bestseller is rather delicious irony.

cert 15 themes, language 21.Oct.18 lff

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall