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Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a biographer facing the longest period of writer’s block in literary history. Once, she topped the New York bestseller’s list with two insightful, witty books. Now, she is three month’s behind on her rent and can’t get freelance work as a copywriter.
After selling a treasured letter handwritten by movie legend Katharine Hepburn, she senses an opportunity to make quick money by forging letters seemingly penned by artistic greats like Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward and selling them to artisan book stores.
The gambit works and, aided and abetted by her louche friend Jack (Richard E. Grant), the money rolls in. Lee gets carried away with her own flare for impersonation and soon people who knew the ‘authors’ start to question their authenticity.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Sometimes, the trailer for a movie suffices enough for entertainment.
Before you think I’m going to dis’ most films ever made, that doesn’t mean the feature is poor. Far from it. As is the case with this black comedy, I mean that you get all you need from that 2min snippet, with the full-length feature matching it.
That could mean the movie has a great marketing team behind it, a team that manages to perfectly tantalise audiences, with a tasty, promotional lure that reels the fishes in to multiplexes.
I am such a fishy.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a film I had been eager to see and it is a finely caustic comedy, just the thing that appeals to me. There are no big, profane belly laughs as you would expect from a McCarthy film. In fact, there’s hardly anything that makes you laugh, but it sustains a wry smile on the face throughout with a neat, smooth line of sarcasm and wit. Neater and smoother, at least, than the haphazard lines of cocaine that reprobate Jack merrily snorts.
For me the writers could have pushed further with the causticity, especially considering how obnoxious and dishonest the leading characters are but they still turn out a lovely, tart script.
Is McCarthy, famous (and Oscar-nominated) for bawdy laugh-fests like Bridesmaids, Spy (2015) and The Boss (2016), turning herself into a female Robin Williams? That late and much-missed actor led many comedies, but was a fantastic dramatic actor when he fancied a more sober performance in Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), Good Will Hunting (1997).
Israel is exactly the sort of potty-mouthed gargoyle her careers has needed and, with the worse female haircut in history, an abrasive, insulting manner but deeply troubled, lone-wolf personality she just might, waltz off with the most coveted 13.5 inches, 8.5lbs of gold plated bronze in the world.
But not if Olivia Colman, for The Favourite, has something to say on the matter.
Interestingly, McCarthy is also on the other side of awards ceremonies, the Golden Raspberry, awarded annually for the worse movies. McCarty is nominated for Worse Actress and producer for last year’s turkey The Happytime Murders.
Richard E. Grant is likewise nodded at by Oscar – his first nomination, as Best Supporting Actor – for playing retired kleptomaniac Jack as a middle-aged Withnail.
Grant is a bit like the English John Wayne. Not in the horse-riding, “drink yer milk” vein, but he has sustained a highly successful career for playing himself.
For nearly 40 years he has been one of least versatile, but completely charming, amusing and thoroughly watchable of actors. Smarter than Hugh Grant. Silkier, even, than Bill Nighy (and takes some doing).
He won’t win the Oscar, but that’s not the point. He doesn’t need evidence that he should change his ‘acting’ style. Here’s to another two decades of infinite sameness.
Cast & credits
Director: Marielle Heller. 1hr 46 mins/106mins. Archer Gray/Fox Searchlight Pictures. (15)
Producers: Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell.
Writers: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty.
Camera: Brandon Trost.
Music: Nate Heller.
Sets: Stephen H. Carter.
Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro.