Can You Ever Forgive Me? Movie Review (In Detail)

Spoilers Alert:

Melissa McCarthy has become world-famous through her appearances in sometimes very blatant slapstick comedies such as “Bride Alarm” or “Tammy – Fully Crazy”. In the bio pic CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? she is now playing her most dramatic role to date. We reveal how the actress fared in our review.

The Plot Summary

New York, early 1990s: Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) was once a successful, recognized journalist and biographer. Recently, however, the orders stopped coming. A serious writer’s block and her not entirely innocent, alarmingly progressive alcoholism worsen the situation and bring her into more and more financial difficulties. The rent on their run-down one-room apartment has been overdue for months and now their beloved feline needs vital surgery. Lee urgently needs money. That’s why she begins to move her last belongings. While selling a written message that she once received from Katherine Hepburn, she learns that there is apparently a thriving collector scene. Its members are willing to pay staggering sums for the private correspondence of deceased celebrities. Lee senses her chance to finally get cash again. She begins to forge letters from people like Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich and offers them at auction houses together with her acquaintance, the eccentric drug dealer Jack (Richard E. Grant). At first the trick works surprisingly well. But then the duo gets cocky and steals real letters and notes from historical figures from libraries in order to sell them off too. So the FBI is finally called into action…

Movie explanation of the ending

So she can seriously do it. After Melissa McCarthy (“The Happytime Murders”) Having had an amazing career with almost consistently crass comedies full of some disgusting toilet humor, she presents herself here in her most serious leading role to date – and as a real person at that. The American, who has long since become one of the most popular and highest-paid actresses of the decade, is doing great. McCarthy shows a lot of empathy and courage in portraying the not always positive, likeable sides of New Yorker Lee Israel, who died in 2014 at the age of 75. The film is based on Israel’s 2008 autobiography Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs Of A Literary Forger. The book, published fifteen years after she was sentenced to six months of house arrest plus five years of probation, became a bestseller in the USA. The volume caused quite a stir because, through its sale, Israel profited a second time from her previous crimes and the estimated 400 forgeries she produced.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) tries to sell the forged letters in antique shops. With success!

For McCarthy, the film became a labor of love after she found out about the strange history of the forgeries by chance. Her husband Ben Falcone, who directed her slapstick hits The Boss and How To Party With Mom, had landed a job as a supporting actor in an earlier attempt to adapt the book. At that time the Oscar winner was Julianne Moore (“Still Alice – My Life Without Yesterday”) intended for the main role. But for a variety of reasons the film was not made. McCarthy was by Nicole Holofceners (“Enough said”) However, she was so fascinated by the script and its protagonist that she persuaded the producers, who were about to give up on the project for good, to take it up again and cast her in the leading role. What particularly appealed to McCarthy about this was that Israel was not a perfect woman, but a complex character with good and bad qualities, with positive qualities, but also massive flaws and a dark side. She presents all of these elements in director Marielle Heller’s production, which generates a variety of small to large laughs (“The Diary Of A Teenage Girl”) with a lot of passion and skill.

In the finished film, Ben Falcone can still be seen in the role he was offered in the previous, unfinished incarnation, as one of Lee’s fraud victims. Richard E. Grant plays the part of Lee’s friend and accomplice Jack Hock (“Logan – The Wolverine”, “Withnail & I”) with the mix of charm, opacity and slight creepiness that he has long perfected. The Brit once again underlines the impression that he has simply been seen far too rarely on the big screen recently. The best scenes of the film, which fittingly often comes across in the style of a 90s art house flick due to its greyish color scheme and excellent equipment, are reserved for its star. The way in which the moments in which Lee imagines her bold fabrications and puts them into action are realized by Heller and McCarthy is simply brilliant and downright entertaining. These passages make it clear what an imaginative, funny and witty author Israel could have been and be if she had channeled her talent not to her criminal side, but to her purely creative side.

Lee finds a good friend in Jack (Richard E. Grant).

The moments with Dolly Wells are also touching, almost heartbreaking (“Love to Visit”), who plays a bookseller and another buyer of the fake letters. There is clear potential for a beautiful friendship or even more between the two women. However, this is given away by the main character because she mercilessly subordinates interpersonal contacts and her private happiness to the pursuit of a few quick-earned dollars. A mistake that she ultimately has to admit, at least to herself, and apparently regrets. By now it is impossible for the viewer not to take this woman to his heart – despite her actions and character deficiencies – and to continue to keep his fingers crossed for her even (or especially!) after she has long been convicted and sentenced.

Conclusion: Melissa McCarthy inspires with passion and skill in this bio-pic staged as a dramedy and was rightly nominated for an Oscar. The film touches but also makes us laugh and also features the always wonderful, always entertaining Richard E. Grant. More is hardly possible.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from February 21st.

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