Can You Ever Forgive Me?
19th October 2018 5.30pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
20th October 2018 11.30am at Embankment Garden Cinema
20th October 2018 5.00pm at Picturehouse Central
Writer Lee Israel was a master when it came to finding the voices of others, evidenced through both her best-selling biographies and in her notorious foray into forgery. In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a biographical drama charting her criminal years, the literary figure finally meets her cinematic match. Heralding the long overdue arrival of a character worthy of Melissa McCarthy, Marielle Heller’s film is wit personified.
After her career winds up on the rocks along with her whisky, Lee’s agent offers her an ultimatum: cosy up to the publishing world or find another way of making money. But when she bumps into old acquaintance Jack (Richard E Grant), an eccentric street grifter, Lee realises there is a way she might work beneath the law, using her talents to falsify the personal correspondence of revered authors. However. the washed-up writer is playing a dangerous game, and as she drinks and deals her way down into the murky depths of deception, she becomes more isolated than ever.
McCarthy carves such complexity out of the protagonist that one feels she could craft an entire biography of her own. The picture she paints is not conventionally palatable: rude and unruly, Lee has no social skills whatsoever. But there is a rebellious spark that instantly draws us in, allowing her to rise up out of the pretension of her peers. She is the antihero, a familiar victim of inevitable obscurity and self-inflicted seclusion. And she might have sunk to the bottom of her glass, were it not for the incomparable Jack. Richard E Grant is a never-ending source of cinematic treasures, and this film allows him to shine as bright as ever. His performance exudes audacious energy and a delicious confidence that endear us to him from the first second of screen time. But for all Jack’s showy exterior, he clearly needs companionship as much as his partner in crime. A couple of misfits with explosive chemistry, McCarthy and Grant make an incomparable pair.
The allure of the picture is also a product of the intricate and intelligent screenplay, which makes a compelling commentary on the idea of fame. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty have constructed a world where staying relevant requires a person to sell their persona, not their skills. A world in which it’s easier to become infamous than it is to be famous. In other words, the real world. In such a landscape, a woman who might seem cold and uncaring – and who, in many ways, is – represents a candid breath of fresh air.
The sparkling humour of the script sits in perfect contrast with the artfully sordid visuals. Dishes litter a dirty, dark and dreary flat. An old cat in an otherwise empty apartment brings a tired cliché to life with tragic definition. Flies die fitfully on the pillows; there is no comfort to be found here. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but a crisply printed question cuts through and confronts the audience: Can you forgive me?
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is released nationwide on 1st February 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Can You Ever Forgive Me? here: