A film review by Lucy Mainwaring-Parr, Criminology Undergraduate.
Melissa McCarthy’s name, since her standout appearance in the slap-stick comedy Bridesmaids in 2011, has grown synonymous with screwball performances and incredulous plots. The announcement for McCarthy’s appearance in a the more serious biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? subsequently came as a surprise for critics and fans alike. Yet, the performance she has produced is arguably one of the best of her career and a move that wonderfully demonstrates the versatility of her acting capabilities. The plot of Can You Ever Forgive Me? follows the true story of the biographical author, Lee Israel (McCarthy) through her erratic and incidental career progression. Israel had a couple of successful publications, but facing writer’s block, decreasing funds and a reluctant agent, decided to turn her writing flare to other, more dubious, pursuits. A series of fortuitous events, including encountering an old acquaintance from the writing world, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), lands Israel in an unexpected, although idiosyncratic, position. Israel becomes a charlatan, forging counterfeit letters pretending to be famous figures from the past. Combining her seemingly predisposed creative writing talents with her breadth of biographical knowledge of famous figures generates large profits for the writer as her counterfeit works are sold to trusting collectors.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? despite it’s serious exterior, carries a comedic hilarity bathed in irony; usually in exchanges between the equally self-absorbed Israel and Hock. Grant portrays Hocks’ fading English Dandy with a convincing tenacity, all the flairs of life in 90s New York intact. He is narcissistic but provides warmth to McCarthy’s portrayal of the cutting Israel. Notably the duo were each nominated for Oscars for their performances. The film carries a pathos as well. Both characters, despite their wit and talents, are struggling to survive society at the turn of the millennia. Israel’s lifestyle is verging on hermit-like, as her refuge is found in alcohol and dependence on the affections of her cat. But both seem to be resigned to their fate; to exist beyond the means of society. The plot of Can You Ever Forgive Me? could very easily have portrayed Israel as an unlikeable lead; she is rude, careless, and her apartment smells of cat urine. But McCarthy’s endearing hopelessness shines through; we empathise with the self-absorbed Israel. The character possessed talents that the original letter writers lacked, she improves them even – yet these talents go unrecognised. Through the film, Israel and Hock’s story is transformed into a heroic tale; it is tragic, realistic but extraordinarily enjoyable.