Ever since her breakout role in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has become famous predominantly for her comedy schtick. However, McCarthy has shown that she also has a serious side in films such as St. Vincent and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, for which getting widespread acclaim.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? tells the true story of Lee Israel, a once-famous celebrity biographer that has fallen out of demand and is struggling financially. To make ends meet, she begins forging “personal” letters from famous celebrities and literary figures.
The story was surprisingly interesting. Forging letters doesn’t seem like it would create the most cinematic story, but enough humor and suspense are infused into the movie that it is thoroughly enjoyable. Many of the forgery scenes are quite suspenseful, emphasizing the sneaky criminal elements of Israel’s actions. The pacing is just right too — it isn’t rushed, but it never drags.
Additionally, the characterization in the film is strong. Israel isn’t painted to be a misanthrope, but a person with issues trusting others, and this makes her vastly more sympathetic. Even though her actions are criminal, the audience can’t help but feel that they are justified because of the light in which the story paints them. The supporting character of Jack Hock is also well-developed. The audience’s opinion of the character fluctuates, much like that of Israel herself.
However, the movie could have done a slightly better job of addressing Israel’s sexuality. The story acknowledges this, but doesn’t really embrace it as it should have. The closest it gets to being successful in this regard is a scene in which we see Israel speaking with one of her former partners. Hock’s sexuality is more openly and adequately explored, but the movie still could have spared to do a bit more, especially towards the end.
Melissa McCarthy delivers the best performance of her career. She nails both the comedic delivery and emotional nuance of the role. Although her more straightforwardly comedic turns have a lot of fans, she is arguably a better dramatic actress, as this and St. Vincent are perhaps her two best performances. Richard E. Grant is also quite strong in his supporting role, doing a great job of capturing the sly, but charming nature of the character.
The movie also has quite a bit going for it stylistically. The editing of the film is phenomenal and keeps the pacing fast. The cinematography and production design are both great, transporting the audience back in time to the 1990’s. The score is excellent too, developing the movie’s tone and mood.
Overall, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was quite impressive. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant both deliver awards-worthy performances, and the story is very entertaining. This serves as solid counter-programming to some of the bigger-budget fare coming out this month.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is now playing in select theaters and is currently expanding.