I’m usually lukewarm on Melissa McCarthy as a comedic actress, especially in lead roles. It’s not that she doesn’t always click for me, but rather that her style of improvised banter which tends to go on for far too long (thus losing any comedic value) doesn’t. Every once in a while it’s reigned in, and those moments usually crack me up. My favorite performance from her has been St. Vincent (2014), where she takes a much more dramatic role than anything else I’d seen from her – until now. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) finally allows McCarthy to showcase her dramatic chops in this very compelling story of Lee Israel directed by Marielle Heller.
Can you Ever Forgive Me? is a great showcase for McCarthy and Grant.
Lee Israel (McCarthy) was a successful author at one point, with one of her biographies making it on to the New York Times Best Sellers List. However, when we join Lee in the film, her career has tanked after a failed book. She finds herself struggling to pay her bills and take care of her beloved cat, but she refuses to take a normal job as she doesn’t really like people. While researching for her newest book, she discovers some letters written by a famous author and sells them to a dealer. An idea sparks, and she begins forging literary letters to make ends meet.
McCarthy truly conveys every feeling Israel is going through, and she does so powerfully. She brings her wit to Israel’s snarky distaste of most other humans. Once Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) shows up, there are some great fun-and-games moments. Grant and McCarthy really play off of each other so well that you almost forget you’re watching a story about two petty crooks. I found myself rooting for Israel at times where I would usually not. McCarthy brings something so human to this performance that it is impossible not to get sucked in.
Heller’s film is presented at a pace that keeps the story moving without ever feeling rushed. One would expect a story about a writer forging letters to consist of some potentially boring material. However, although there are scenes of Israel sitting at a typewriter, researching books in a library, and frequently drinking at bars, Heller manages to deliver a cinematic experience while putting together some terrific montages to help make the story flow.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is definitely a film worthy of checking out. I enjoyed every minute of it and had ridden the tiny waves of emotions the film wanted me to feel. There was no majorly devastating moment where I felt any tears coming on, but I did feel pangs of sadness. There were no major laughs that shook the walls of the multiplex, but I did chuckle several times. All-in-all, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was exactly the right movie it needed to be, and earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.