BFI London Film Festival: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Directed by Marielle Heller
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin and Ben Falcone
Screening at LFF October 19th, 20th and 21st 2018

by Joanna Orland

Yes, Can You Ever Forgive Me? may be yet another biopic, but based on the bizarre life of author Lee Israel, it stands strong as a story based on its own merit. Lee Israel made her living writing biographies of high profile women including Katharine Hepburn and Estée Lauder. Falling on hard times in the early 90’s, Israel loses her day job, struggles to pay the bills, and is overlooked by her agent for more modern writers like Tom Clancy. She begins forging letters by deceased writers and actors, and selling them on to collectors and dealers, becoming a notorious criminal in the process.

Based on Israel’s own book of these events, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is quite a force to be reckoned with in so far as depicting characters that are rarely front and centre on the big screen. As Lee, Melissa McCarthy plays a curmudgeon of a lady in her 50’s, who doesn’t care at all what people think of her. Richard E. Grant as her sole friend Jack is a hedonistic criminal. Both are alcoholics with no desire to change. Both are gay characters, with their homosexuality not playing a major role in the story.

Melissa McCarthy does an excellent job as Lee – balancing her sense of humour, grumpiness and loneliness perfectly. Richard E. Grant as Jack is a breath of fresh air; comparisons to his role in Withnail & I are inevitable. Even the cat in this film gives an excellent performance! Absolutely no qualms on the acting front!

The sense of loneliness in Can You Ever Forgive Me? provides an underlying sadness to the film. Lee may be grumpy and forthcoming on the surface, but her cat is her only friend to start. And when Jack comes into her life and visits her apartment for the first time, how alone Lee has been is only magnified. Jack’s accompanying loneliness is also apparent as the two take to each other immediately, finding some solace in the other’s plight. The chemistry between McCarthy and Grant is obvious, and some of the film’s best humour is in their scenes together, whether they’re playing with each other or prank calling those they can’t stand.

Lee Israel’s own assertation of ‘I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker!’, is quite justified by the characterization in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. Not knowing Lee Israel, I can’t say if Melissa Mcarthy’s a better Lee Israel than Lee Isreal, but she’s certainly given the original a run for her money.


Leave a Reply