Can You Ever Forgive Me?
It’s never easy making a career as a writer that provides a sustainable source of income. This is the struggle that Lee Israel, a New York Times Best Selling author, is inadvertently faced with come the turn of the 1990s. Fame came and went in a hard and fleeting fashion for her, leaving the writer with little work or future publication prospects by 1992. Through an act of cunning, literary blasphemy and desperation, Israel’s life of forgery and crime beckoned, along with a tipple of alcohol on the side. Marielle Heller gives Lee’s own autobiography Can You Ever Forgive Me? a resurrection, telling the tale of her downfall on the screen and displaying the author’s own interpretation of the thrilling ride she endured when her rise to financial gain was countered by an FBI case.
Struggling with writer’s block, alcoholism and lack of employment, Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is fighting to hold on to her career as an author. Falling victim to the bottle and her bills, she resorts to selling her own possessions in order to survive. While dwelling in the pity and hopelessness of her squalor, her path crosses with Jack (Richard E Grant), an old acquaintance ubiquitous wherever fun and roguishness is rife. Slowly meandering towards the laissez-faire approach to life, Lee finds that forging and doctoring the letters of famous writers, musicians, poets and actors can actually prove a profitable business, albeit entirely illegal. With the help of Jack, Lee takes on New York’s largest collectors and book stores, distributing her counterfeits with profitable ease. But little does she know, higher powers are chasing her, their hawk eyes locked upon her increasingly growing paper trail.
Firstly, it is incredibly refreshing to see Melissa McCarthy take on a serious and dramatic role that really grants her the opportunity to exhibit her true potential and acting ability. Sure, we all agree that she is fantastic in her comedic appearances in films such as Bridesmaids, Spy and Ghostbusters, but what Can You Ever Forgive Me? shows, is that this actress really is one of the leading stars of this time – her performance here is a true tour de force. Playing the complex and abrasive Israel with a socially awkward shadow, McCarthy sells the character with the upmost conviction and emotional persuasion, not only embodying the author for an onscreen portrayal but personifying the real Lee’s intentions and unembellished desires with devastating and absorbing realism. Partnered with Richard E Grant’s flamboyant Jack, the two generate a rivetingly inquisitive dynamic, but a chemistry that also keeps the plot ticking faster than the turning of pages, with the ebb and flow of the autobiographical book itself extracted and adapted with precision and honesty.
The soundtrack to the film takes on different variations of jazz, ranging from smooth, cool, mainstream vibes to the higher tempo freestyle assortment, representing Lee’s emotions as each scene develops and the rise and fall of the film itself. Kudos to the director’s brother Nate Heller, who previously collaborated with her on 2015 movie The Diary of a Teenage Girl, for taking the wild leap and choosing a genre of music that, although synonymous with the movie’s setting, was not prevalent during this particular era; however, it wonderfully epitomises the character of Israel.
As a whole, the film rests as a nostalgic journey back into the nineties, to a world that was just on the cusp of a worldwide internet but writing was still innocent and pure. Paying homage to literature as well as the author who slandered it, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is yet another success for Marielle Heller, and with Melissa McCarthy at the film’s centre, it’s likely those award bells will be ringing once again.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is released nationwide on 1st February 2019.
Watch the trailer for Can You Ever Forgive Me? here: