Melissa McCarthy has already made a substantial name for herself in the comedy scene, but in Can You Ever Forgive Me? she lets the audience know her talent is vast and uninhibited. The movie, based on Lee Israel’s memoir with the same title, is insightful, poetic, and humorous. It is on my list of movies I’d watch over and over.
The movie begins with Lee Israel, played by McCarthy, drinking at an office job before being fired for insulting her boss. She then stumbles and fails to pay her rent, care for her cat, and writes a biography about Fanny Brice–a book her publisher says no one will want to read. While researching Brice in her local library, she finds a personal letter written by Brice. Desperate for cash, she sells it to a local collector’s bookstore. She then realizes how easy it would be to pay her bills by forging letters from famous authors and selling them to different bookstores and collectors.
The movie follows her as she becomes an expert in this forgery, buying different typewriters, letters, and aging the pages in an oven. Eventually, collectors find out her letters are fake and blacklist her. Instead of stopping, she uses her only friend, Jack Hock, as a front to sell them. It all crashes as you’d expect when the FBI begins to investigate.
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Regardless of you knowing who Lee Israel is or not, the film stays inside your head long after it has ended. Each conversation, scene, and detail is exquisite. The characters have a unique, believable dysfunction that hits home and reminds you of how it feels to be alone and desperate. Lee is portrayed as unlikable, yet McCarthy makes you fall in love with her.
Lee Israel deals with loneliness, opening yourself up to others, and alcoholism. Her personal failures become yours as she repeatedly falters. The enormous heartbreak, though, is not just with her but her best friend Jack Hock as well.
Played by Richard Grant, Jack Hock is a homeless addict. The two of them feed off one another’s poor behavior while still trying their best to be a good friend. Both of them remind us that sometimes we don’t know who is hurting who in a relationship.
While Can You Ever Forgive Me? is made nearly perfect with Melissa McCarthy, it was made beautiful with Richard Grant’s portrayal of a man just as lonely and in despair as she was. They remind us of what it means to be human–which includes a humility we only get after hitting rock bottom.