Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Anna Deavere Smith, Ben Falcone, and Jane Curtin
Written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
Directed by Marielle Heller
Rated: 14A for coarse language and substance abuse
Runtime: 106 minutes
Can You Ever Forgive Me? screens on Monday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at the Arden Theatre as part of the St. Albert Public Library’s Reel Mondays fundraiser. All proceeds go towards producing the St. Albert Readers’ Festival, also known as STARFest.
Certainly, you must know Melissa McCarthy. She’s the uncompromisingly funny comedienne from such movies as Spy, Bridesmaids, and Life of the Party. If you’ve never watched any of those, it’s important to take a minute to view one of those titles and soak in her genius, which is equal measures of astute physical humour and outrageously spot-on character mastery. Her timing is impeccable and her self-aware self-deprecation makes her a queen of comedy in my book. If you don’t laugh like you’ve never laughed before then I just don’t know what to tell you.
That homework is important also because it will give you a much better appreciation of McCarthy’s acting talents as she puts forward in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Yes, she was nominated for an Oscar for it, and rightly so. Her dramatic talents are equally prodigious in her biographical portrayal of Lee Israel, a tender yet honest show of a writer at the end of her rope.
Background: Israel was a marvelous writer of biographies in book and magazine articles. At some point, she lost her touch after one project fell flat and she couldn’t regain her footing. Bankrupt and without her publisher’s support to reestablish her writing career, she forged a new path. That’s a literary way of saying that she started making money by forging celebrity correspondence complete with faked signatures. Apparently, there’s a huge market for these collectible items and Israel, ever the master of really getting into her subjects' heads, was easily able to assume their personalities as she wrote these notes complete with their idiosyncratic turns of phrase and personal senses of humour. To do so is a kind of criminal genius, but genius nonetheless.
Later in her life, Israel published her own memoir called Can You Ever Forgive Me? If you haven’t read her works previously, then you should borrow this one from the St. Albert Public Library and revel in her use of the English language. It’s barely 150 pages but it's dense and wonderful like a wild English garden. It makes you keep the dictionary close by, and I deeply appreciate those books and those writers.
The movie veers slightly from the written word, which I suppose is still in the spirit of Israel and her fakery. Israel, accomplished wordsmith on paper yet bitter and acerbic in life, was also deeply alcoholic and had no friends but for her cat. At one point when her ruse was starting to catch the authorities’ attention, she decided not to give up her crimes but continue through an intermediary, Jack Hock (played ever so charmingly by Richard E. Grant). To watch these two actors exchange their dialogue over numerous tumblers is immensely enjoyable fly-on-the-wall filmmaking. To see them both succumb to their own fatal flaws is tragic yet beautifully done. McCarthy as Israel is a revelation.