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Synopsis: In CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, the best-selling celebrity biographer (and cat lover) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee found herself unable to get published because she had fallen out of step with the marketplace, she turned her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack. (Fox Searchlight)
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, and Dolly Wells
Writers: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
Director: Marielle Heller
Rating: R (United States)
Running Time: 107mins
Melissa McCarthy has predominantly been a comedic actress but she’s aiming for something a little higher with her newest film, Can You Ever Forgive Me. After seeing it, she might just hit that target of gold. This is a much different film than any of her past films but her role as a best-selling celebrity biographer named Lee Israel still allowed her to utilize her comedic talents. The story here followed Israel as she fell on hard times with the world seemingly not being interested in biographies. Needing a new source of income, Israel turned to more illegal means by creating forged letters by famed literary figures.
Over the course of the film, the story dove deeper into Israel’s loneliness as she pretty much had no one in her life, albeit some of this was of her making. Her drinking and self-destructive behavior led her to burn every bridge. She generally did not get along with people and preferred the company of cats, including her own cat who she was very close with. She wasn’t completely alone, however, as she had her best friend Jack Hock (Grant) by her side. Both their not caring attitudes made them fun to watch together, creating several hilarious moments. Ultimately, if there was one thing that the film could have gone better, it could have gone further into Israel’s backstory.
The best part of the film was McCarthy’s performance as Israel. This was a much different role for her but she excelled by giving a nuanced performance of a damaged woman looking to regain relevance. Her performance was equal amounts of funny and sad but she was always compelling to watch. Grant elevated Hock to more than just the idiot sidekick though the story could have gone further with him. McCarthy and Grant’s chemistry was excellent, however, there wasn’t nearly enough of them.
Overall, this was an excellent dramedy that was fun to watch while surprisingly emotional thanks to a great script, direction, and performances, especially a career-best performance by Melissa McCarthy. The hype is real.