Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Director: Marielle Heller | Runtime: 1h 46mins | Biography, Comedy, Drama
It’s 1991 and biography writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) deals with a unsuccessful recent release, and a bleak looking follow up. Based on the real events of Israel’s life, she attempts to cope with growing financial and personal troubles by forging letters from late writers, balancing her newfound career with close friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant).
From the get go, the most notable aspect of this biographical tale is the dramatic turn for McCarthy, and how effortlessly she seems to fall into the role. Her brash and rude nature is well documented, mix that with the deceptive nature of the business she dives into and you toe the line between a charming troublemaker and just unlikable. Thankfully, we don’t get the latter.
The key to this success is strong performances from McCarthy and Grant, as well as a gifted directorial oversight by Marielle Heller, who is quickly showing herself to be a wonderful new talent (See: Diary Of A Teenage Girl, 2015). Potentially the only part of the piece that brings downs the quality is the screenplay – but only during the first act. Instead of organically being introduced to different elements of Israel’s life, each scene feels like part of puzzle presenting her character; she prefers her cat to humans, she’s a drinker, lack of money, low career prospects. However, once this hurdle is reached the film flows much more naturally and the clunky start fades away.
The different barriers Israel has to overcome are all self inflicted making this a deeply intimate story of a woman trying to cope with her struggling art. All Lee cares about is quality writing, cursing Tom Clancy’s huge financial payout for his book deal, taking pride in her forgeries – they’re fooling everyone, after-all. This really lets us into the character of Lee, she believes her letters to be homages, a respect to those she’s impersonating, when really Lee is profiting from a clumsy masquerade. She can’t see the nature of her connection with the writings, she is very much selfish in any relationship she has throughout. Lee sabotages almost every relationship she has with another person, afraid, in case she gets hurt, even forgoing a romance with a bookstore owner who believes her biographies to be of the same quality of the work written by those she ends up impersonating.
With every film based on a real story, it’s difficult to balance the line between truth and creating a accomplished piece of work. In this case, much of the narrative is true to life, the events lending themselves well to a subdued cinematic story, and engaging throughout. It does have it’s minor gripes, although very much overshadowed by the charming, off-beat lead and her platonic companion, their relationship alone making this worth a watch.