I made a startling realization about half way thru Can You Ever Forgive Me?: It was the first time I had seen Melissa McCarthy on the big screen (I would later find out the only other film I had seen her in was 2010’s abysmal Life as We know it, which I don’t remember her being in. I take it she would be thankful for me for that.)
Oh, I have seen plenty of her clips online from movies like Bridesmaids (which she got an Oscar nomination for) as well as her skits on Saturday Night Live, so I knew enough going into this film that this would be a change of pace for her. Change of pace is a gross understatement. The fact that her Lee Israel swears a lot is really the only thing even close to resembling Melissa McCarthy. The performance is nothing short of revolutionary, and will surely be in the Oscar conversations for the next couple months.
Based on a true story, Israel is a struggling writer living in New York in the early 1990s, whose books have been all but forgotten. Her biography on Fanny Brice is a dead end, there are an abundance of flies in her apartment, and her cat is sick. Her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) invites Lee to her party, and we see right away people skills are not in Lee’s skill set.
By accident, Lee comes across the letter of a famous writer, and realizes she can do well at impersonating them as she writes fake letters, later selling them to collectors. The only person she informs her plan to is her homosexual writer friend Jack Hock (an equally great performance by Richard E. Grant), who is not the best drug dealer out there. The chemistry between Grant and McCarthy is near magic.
The rest of the supporting cast is spot on (including Ben Falcone, real life husband of McCarthy), but the unsung heroes in my mind are screenwriters Jeff Whitty and Nicole Holofcener. The dialogue is as near perfect as it can be. They deserve Oscar consideration right along Grant and McCarthy.
Parents, the R rating is justified, as there is a lot of swearing that I would think no middle schooler has heard before in context (at least I hope not). There is no sex in the movie, but we do see some rear male nudity. High School and above.
The title of the film comes from a letter from author Dorothy Parker, one of the many authors that Lee Israel tried to impersonate. In a way, it is also fitting to some of the roles Melissa McCarthy has had throughout the years (I know, I never saw them, but I can only speculate from what I have heard). It may have taken some time, but after her performance here, I can safely say I can forgive her.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2