Friday, November 9, 2018

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Movie Review

Sad and somber, but funny and thoughtful – a profound triumph.
This is Melissa McCarthy as you probably aren’t expecting her; I don’t think anybody was prepared for this casting announcement last year. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is funny in some parts, but it’s mostly a solemn drama with a tragicomedy theme permeating its lead character. It’s 1991 and Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a formerly semi-successful, not really famous writer of biographies.   2018

Directed by: Marielle Heller

Screenplay by: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant

When we first meet Lee she’s drinking and swearing at work, some drudgery in the realm of copy-editing and gets herself fired. At home she has a sick cat, a bug-infested apartment that’s really dirty, and no friends. The last part is a given with how socially uncouth she is, and when she attends a party at her agent’s house, they barely even keep of pretentions of civility. Her depression is obvious, but the roots are unclear, whether it’s a lack of success or a lack of money, or some combination with other social factors.

Lee meets the one other socially uncouth writer from their New York circle – Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) an older, single gay man who drinks just as much as Lee does. Jack’s sexuality is made very clear from his mannerisms and lifestyle, but the film doesn’t need to discuss it, just as Lee’s sexuality is also implied but not discussed. These are two platonic friends leading a major movie, who are both gay, but their friendship doesn’t rely on their sexuality at all. It’s one small facet of who they are, and it doesn’t need to get pointed out when it’s not relevant to the plot.

The plot is the crime element of the movie. Lee needs a job and money, and happens across a slew of independent bookstores buying and selling literary memorabilia, like signed personal letters from famous writers of years past. She slowly but surely becomes a forger, and a good one – after all, she is a good writer. I love how this is incorporated into the movie and into Lee’s life with no discernible change in tone. Balancing comedy, drama, tragedy, biography, and crime all in one is no easy feat and yet it’s seamless here.

The title comes from Lee’s real memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, in which she most definitely doesn’t ask for forgiveness. The Lee from the movie matches the real-life Lee, one who is brazenly confident in her writing abilities and is belligerently angry that Tom Clancy can make $3 Million for his “right-wing, male propaganda” but she can’t get a $10 advance.

The movie is more sad and somber than it is outright funny, but Melissa McCarthy is fantastic, the supporting cast is comprehensively fantastic, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a well-made thoughtful movie and deserves all the praise coming its way.