We’re so used to Melissa McCarthy being the funny actress, that’s it’s hard to imagine her otherwise. But nobody’s going to question her acting chops after her turn as Lee Israel, true life best-selling author turned celebrity memorabilia forger. While there are certainly funny moments in this adaptation of Israel’s book about her descent to the remainders table and her newfound skill writing faux letters in the voices of some of the great authors of the 20th century, McCarthy’s Israel is a caustic misanthrope whose only friend is her cat. That is, until she meets aging party boy Jack (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Withnail & I) who becomes her drinking buddy and partner in crime.

Israel had made her career writing biographies of celebrities from Katherine Hepburn to Estée Lauder. But suddenly no one wanted to buy her latest, a bio of Fanny Brice. She was running out of money and had to sell her framed letter from Hepburn just to pay the rent. And then as she was doing research for the Brice book, she found a letter from Brice. So she sold that, and realizing that people paid good money for those letters, she decided to write a few of her own, from Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, and more. And she kept at it, right up until the FBI came down on her and put an end to her spree.

What’s wonderful about the film is that director Marielle Heller lets the audience see the desperate woman beneath Israel’s brutal facade. McCarthy should get some Hollywood love for this role come awards season. And Grant, too. As film buddies, they make a great pair. Can You Ever Forgive Me? won’t lose much going to the small screen, but it is definitely worth seeing.

Mainstream saw the film at Middleburg and had this to say about it.
Melissa McCarthy (Life of the Party, Bridesmaids) tones down her looks and comedy shtick to portray Lee Israel, a best-selling celebrity biographer who fell on hard times and resorted to forging witty letters from famous people in order to make ends meet. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the book by Israel about her exploits and her partner in crime, a street hustler and drinking buddy named Jack (Richard E. Grant). The story is quite interesting and McCarthy and Grant are both very good, but the film was rather slow and I wasn’t caring all that much about the characters until the final minutes of the film. In my book, it’s more of an okay rental than a must-see on the big screen. (3/4 stars)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *