Can You Ever Forgive Me?

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Richard E Grant and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
"McCarthy is a revelation."

There comes a moment in every comedian’s career when they are offered a straight role and they think about it for as long as it takes to skim read the script. If they take the risk sometimes a bit of magic breaks off and lands in the lap of the audience. It happens here with the queen of bad taste, Melissa McCarthy.

Ever since Bridesmaids, or before if you can remember that far, she has played difficult women who say what they think and do what they want. Protocol is for the birds. Manners maketh a mess. Why be polite when your instinct is to be rude? She’s small and wide. Language is her weapon of choice. As an act of defiance against Goody Two Shoes she behaves badly. What’s left but humiliation, or a turd sandwich? She takes the sarnie.

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As so many productions these days, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Is based on real events. It doesn’t call itself a biopic. Too vulgar? Lee Israel wrote books about more famous authors of the Twenties and Thirties in New York. They did well - the books, that is - until suddenly ideas, or subject matters, dried up. At 50-something how do you pay the bills? Lee discovered by chance that there was a memorabilia market, agents who bought and sold stuff that belonged to the stars - not movie actors but writers - and she thought she would try her hand at forgery. She wrote intimate letters from Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker and others. The dealers liked them.

Writer’s block? Rot!

What sounds like a middle aged survival story with the mistress of misrule in charge doesn’t unlock the doors of expectation. Take care of what you haven’t wished for. Tuck those prejudices into your back pocket because this little film is a big surprise. McCarthy discards her tough persona in favour of a natural performance that touches those places that need protecting, like your heart.

To give a boost to the entertainment value meet Richard E Grant as a literary lost cause, ageing and losing the fight to retain an iota of respect as the fabled faded charmer who can’t find the words to make money anymore and however his mind works is better at hanging onto a dubious friendship with Lee than facing isolation alone.

The film is complete and unforced. McCarthy is a revelation. Grant provides the perfect support. If the plot lacks superheroic action it has something better, a taste of truth. Lee wrote the book, confessing everything. It’s about her life and how she saves it by taking advantage of other people’s fascination with fame and how imagination comes in different forms especially when illustrating the hopes and dreams of interesting strangers. If life is a game Lee wins. If she cheats who is to question her endeavour?

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2019
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The true story of Lee Israel who became a literary forger.
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Anne-Katrin Titze **1/2

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London 2018

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The letter writer