Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Movie Review: "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" (2018)

Director: Marielle Heller
Year: 2018
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

A struggling writer who has fallen on hard times starts forging letters from famous authors and sells them to collectors so she can make ends meet.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? 2018 movie still Melissa McCarthy Richard E. Grant Lee Israel
"Some things are better kept to oneself, even if they are brilliant." (Image Source)
Writer's block is a nasty little bugger, especially when you're a woman who has been known for penning biographies. Authors often work full-time jobs to supplement their income between books. Not everyone wants to go the more scandalous, counterfeit route, but then again, not everyone is as unpleasant as Lee Israel, who didn't really seem to have the disposition to be a barista or a grocery store checker. She'd probably call you a C-U-Next-Tuesday if you even so much as looked at her the wrong way. "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" is directed by Marielle Heller, who is best known as the director of the indie coming-of-age drama "The Diary of a Teenage Girl." The screenplay is written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and is based on the Lee Israel biography of the same name. Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is an author who once had a book on the New York Times bestseller list but is now struggling to pay her bills after her latest book "Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic" was an absolute flop. After being fired from her job for being a belligerent drunk and in desperate need of money, Lee uses her skills as a writer to forge literary letters from more prominent, famous authors. She then turns around and sells them to collectors, sometimes for hundreds of dollars apiece. People eventually start to get wise to her trickery and stop buying from her, so she enlists the help of her drinking buddy Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), who is the closest person she has to a friend, to help in her scheme.
Can You Ever Forgive Me 2018 movie still Melissa McCarthy Lee Israel
"I'll have you know I'm a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker." (Image Source)
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?" is a biography about an unlikable criminal woman who hates people and more often than not treats them like dirt, so needless to say, this may be a hard sell for some audience members. Melissa McCarthy is one of the best people to tackle a personality like this because she has had a lot of success playing charming assholes in the past. McCarthy gives an excellent performance in the type of role where she is really able to showcase her full range. Don't get us wrong, we have liked her in some of the raucous comedies she has done, but we have always preferred her in these more subtle, nuanced, far less boisterous roles, which is exactly what she gives us as Lee Israel, with a decent dose of "caustic wit" and dark humor for good measure. Despite being a bit of a pain in the ass (and that's putting it lightly), Heller, Holofcener, Whitty, and McCarthy approach Lee Israel with some degree of tenderness and love. We don't completely hate Israel for being a wretchedly angry person, we sort of feel sorry for the position she has been put in, however self-imposed it may be. As good as McCarthy is, she is often overshadowed by her marvelous co-star Richard E. Grant, who is an absolute marvel when it comes to playing the flamboyant, worldly, equally catty Jack Hock. Jack is much more charming than Lee as a person, but he is even smarmier than she is. Really, it is these two performances that make this movie shine as brightly as it does. The story itself is interesting, but it wouldn't be nearly as successful without McCarthy and Grant to breathe life into these very particular individuals. Heller and her team also do a great job capturing the era and giving Israel's life a lived-in feel, complete with an abundance of cat poop under the bed, which we could have done without but ultimately appreciate for feeling so grossly realistic.
Can You Ever Forgive Me 2018 movie still Melissa McCarthy Richard E. Grant Lee Israel
"As an unknown, you can't be such a bitch, Lee." (Image Source)
In the end, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" has an authentic look and feels like a 90's movie, and that's a good thing in this case. Excellent performances by the better-in-dramas Melissa McCarthy and the fabulously colorful Richard E. Grant gives it an edge over other more recent biopics, but we still can't help but feel like we wanted a bit more from this. It's funny at times, repugnant at others. All in all, we think this movie is worth watching.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.6/10
RT Rating: ~98%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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