Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells
Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
106 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use.
Ben Falcone, the husband of Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Life of the Party), does not direct great films with his wife. His efforts have included Tammy and The Boss. That being said, he’s responsible for getting McCarthy locked for the film we are talking about today. For that, I’ll let him take a win.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the true story of Lee Israel (McCarthy), a one-time writer who has fallen on hard times. She can’t afford to pay rent, she can’t afford to pay her cat’s medical bills, she can barely afford to drink, but when Lee strikes up a friendship with Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and turns to embellishing literary letters, things start improving for Lee. Soon, though, she finds her lies building up as she gets closer and closer to being caught.
Director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) seems to excel with character as she pulls such an interesting friendship out of Lee and Jack, aided of course by two career-best performances from McCarthy and Grant. Seriously, as great as the set design, pacing, and writing are, none of it matches the level of acting displayed by these two actors.
I really enjoyed how swiftly the film moves. I didn’t feel for a second like looking at my phone. I just sat along for the ride and enjoyed it as it went. Part of that goes to the tight edit of the finished film, and part of it goes to the great writing from Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty.
I think where Heller’s direction and the screenplay come together is their portrayal of Israel. She is not seen as a deviant or a criminal. She is seen as a human being struggling to keep up with a world seemingly hell-bent on keeping her down. She is struggling in a way I can connect with and empathize with. It’s a tricky task but one that Heller and McCarthy knock out of the park.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an incredible character study that connected me to people I understand and want to succeed, even when they commit crimes and perform shady acts to get there. The film is tied to two central characters and their friendship, and it’s there where it flourishes.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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