Can You Ever Forgive Me? tells the astonishing story of Lee Israel, a successful biographer in the 70s and 80s who falls out of fashion with current trends and stubbornly refuses to refresh her approach. No longer publishable, she hits on the idea of forging letters from major figures such as Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward and Fanny Brice, selling them for large sums to reputable dealers until, of course, she gets caught.
I knew very little about the film before going in apart from the bare bones outlined above and a vague memory of an article about her around the time of her death in 2014, but the cast was intriguing, the trailers were good and it was encouraging to see a film that wasn’t about superheroes or cyborgs or horror – not that I object to any of those, which you will know if you are a regular reader of this blog, but it’s good to change things up from time to time.
I dragged my semi-reluctant husband along with me; he had been iffy about the subject matter but also intrigued by the trailers and has, I think, a bit of a crush on Melissa McCarthy, so off we went.
I really, really enjoyed this film. I thought it was clever and sympathetic without softening any of the crimes that Lee Israel committed. I particularly liked the fact that the director Marielle Heller (who doesn’t seem to get mentioned anywhere, which is a shame) doesn’t try to minimise the self-pity, arrogance, alcoholism and all-round unpleasantness of the lead character. And this is where the acting comes in to its own. Melissa McCarthy is really excellent as Israel, managing to make her horrible and sympathetic all at once. I wasn’t exactly rooting for her because she was duping a lot of people (though some of them deserved it IMHO) but she wasn’t exactly living the high life on her ill-gotten gains; this was about food and keeping a roof over her head.
Melissa is ably supported by the National Treasure that is Richard E Grant, clearly having the time of his life in the role of Jack, Israel’s friend and co-conspirator, a character who is equal parts touching and self-serving.
I may also have bought Lee Israel’s memoir on which the film is based.
Oscar nominations have rightly followed the success of the film, and I for one will be cheering on Mr Grant, though I suspect that he won’t win. This is a thoughtful film for grown-ups and I recommend it without reservation.