Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Can you ever forgive me

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) does what she can to survive.

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

Won’t you be my Neighbor? (2018)

won't you be my neighbor

“I like you Mister Rogers.”

I was one of the last of the Mister Rogers generation, toward the end of one of the great running children shows in history, probably second only to Sesame Street (which Rogers himself guess starred on). Won’t you be my Neighbor? is not the biography of the man Fred Rogers, but of the show he brought to countless kids, and, more important, the ideals it presented.

Director Morgan Neville (Oscar winner for 30 Feet from Stardom) starts when Rogers had the idea of the project. After his first show fell thru, the one we all know started in 1968, going up until August of 2001 (not including a response he made to the 9/11 attacks). We see interviews from those who knew and worked with him, including his wife and two sons. One of the key questions asked is if he was in real life the way he acted on screen, to which one of his sons answers, “Yes.”

 

Fred Rogers was not without his sense of humor. There are clips of subtle pranks pulled on him such as putting on the wrong pair of shoes, and a photo that made its way into his camera (for which his response is golden). Still, the determination in this mans mind and eyes are evident every time he was on screen. For me, the most powerful scene is when we see Rogers before the Senate explaining why money is necessary for what would become PBS. If the words don’t impact you, the reaction from Senator John Pastore will.

Another powerful part of the film is the story of a child named Jeff Erlanger. Anyone familiar with Rogers should know the name, but I still won’t say more, because the scene is mesmerizing on its own power.

(If you haven’t guessed by now, tears are going to happen in the course of this film, and maybe after).

Parents, there is some swearing from some of the people being interviewed, and we do see some of Eddie Murphy’s famous “Mr. Robinson” parody from SNL and one from Johnny Carson. Some of the kids in the theater I was at were laughing, though I doubt they understood all of it. I would say middle pre-teen and up.

It is rather ironic for a man as revered as Fred Rogers to know that he absolutly hated TV. It was that main reason why the ordained minister started the show in the first place. It has been fifteen years since his death, but it is beyond clear that his lessons and ideals will live on as long as people look for them.

If there was ever a movie we needed these days, it is this one.

Heck, the title itself is a question we need to ask more.

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2