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  Can You Ever Forgive Me? Will Write For Food
Year: 2018
Director: Marielle Heller
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro, Pun Bandhu, Erik LaRay Harvey, Brandon Scott Jones, Shay D'lyn, Rosal Colon, Anna Deveare Smith, Marc Evan Jackson
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) likes a drink. She also likes to write. Once upon a time, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, she made a living from the writing, but now the nineties have dawned, she spends more time drinking. And looking after her beloved cat, which has been her strongest relationship for some time now, but lately puss is growing old, needs vet bills to be paid, and the charming apartment they share is looking (and smelling) a lot less appealing than it did when they moved in. Worse than that, her agent (Jane Curtin) is not returning her calls, and when Lee gatecrashes her party, she makes it plain the biographies she pens are not selling anymore...

This true crime story would have been much of a muchness in the torrent of such things that had arrived in cinemas and television since the beginning of the millennium, but what lifted the best of these was a strong central performance, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? was blessed with two of them. McCarthy had been in one of the worst reviewed (and worst received by the public) efforts of the year, The Happytime Murders, when she pulled this one out of the hat, far from the lazy, hacky material she was too keen on in trying to sustain her name above the title stardom, here she was funny, yes, but she was also inhabiting a convincing portrayal of a real woman, with big flaws.

Israel fell into forgery out of desperation to keep her head above water, but that does not necessarily mean you forgive her, as the title asks. What does make you more lenient in your judgement was that no matter how spiky and downright unpleasant she could be - and this does not soft-pedal those qualities at all - she was incredibly vulnerable as well, suffering from a misanthropy that was a result of her closing herself off from the world except on her own increasingly limited terms. Her fake letters from long dead celebrities are snapped up by collectors when her genuine research, meticulous as it was, counted for nothing when readers simply were not interested.

We can tell from more or less the beginning Lee is heading for a fall, and her persistent lawbreaking cannot prop up her shaky self-worth, never mind her shakier circumstances, which offered the relating of her life story a slow-motion car crash tone. Just as we can tell that no matter how much she spends on that darn cat, the feline is not long for this world, Lee's lifestyle is self-destructive, only she does not mind who she takes down with her. By all rights this should have rendered her hateful, but director Marielle Heller was careful to include little notes of sympathy, so we understand why she behaves as she does, for Lee is struggling in a city, a world, in fact, that just does not value her. Some queried further: why should we care she is getting one over on people with more money than sense, anyway?

Adding to that curious, downbeat investment was Richard E. Grant as Israel's friend, practically her sole friend, Jack Hock, a dissolute and HIV-ridden rogue whose considerable charm make up for his poor choices and lack of reliability in a way that Lee's put upon nature make up for hers. Many were quick to point out comparisons between Jack and Grant's first big impression in Withnail & I, and they were certainly there, but he was too good of an actor to fall back on a limited range of tics, and here delivered a character who could just as easily have been a compelling lead as his screen pal. Hock helps her in her crimes, and despite his waywardness you do feel sorry for him, it's like he cannot help himself, though you also feel sorry for Anna (Dolly Wells), the bookshop owner taken in by Lee yet could also have been a much better friend to her had Lee treated her with the dignity she deserved. There were shades in each personality here, and the main thing holding it back was its adherence to dowdiness that did down those vivid characterisations. Other than that, admirably performed all round. Music by Nate Heller.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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