Yet another early screening. Loving these the more I do ’em. As I write this, it’s September 14, 2017.
Has Melissa McCarthy ever done a biopic before? This is kind of interesting. I feel like everyone and everyone’s grandmother has done a biopic. Hell, Mark Wahlberg’s nearly built a career on it. In any case, cool!
Not that I’m familiar with this story, but it’s based on a woman named Lee Israel. In the 70s and 80s, she was a prominent journalist, writing celebrity profiles on huge names, like Katherine Hepburn, among others. But her most famous exploits are when she turned criminal. She wrote forged letters from deceased writers and actors, and then stole real letters and autographed papers, replaced them with her own forgeries, and sold both the real and fake ones in the early 90s before she was eventually arrested. I don’t know, McCarthy hasn’t had the best track record in film in recent years. I mean, I like her and all, and it’s been proven that she can be both funny and talented, but if this movie is in the same vein as TAMMY (2014) or GHOSTBUSTERS then this movie is… well, the more I think about it, the less interested I get. Then again, for every one of those movies, there’s a SPY and THE HEAT (2013). I guess education is in order.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Melissa McCarthy, known for THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018), GHOSTBUSTERS (2016), SPY (2015), and upcoming films THE KITCHEN (2019) and SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2019). But alongside her, we have Richard E. Grant (THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD , JACKIE (2016), PENELOPE , and upcoming films THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS  and Star Wars Episode IX ) and Dolly Wells (HOME AGAIN  and BRIDGET JONES’S BABY ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Marielle Heller, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Co-writing the screenplay, we have Nichole Holofcener, who is known for stuff I’ve never heard of, and Jeff Whitty, who is making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Nate Heller, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Brandon Trost, known for THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017) and POPSTAR (2016). Finally, the editor is Anne McCabe, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Overall, wondering if this is a good or a bad McCarthy movie.
This is my honest opinion of: CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Set in 1991. Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) was once a successful biographer, specifically for famed actress Fanny Brice. However, she’s fallen on hard times. Her publisher doesn’t want to sell more Brice biographies, Lee just lost her job due to her temper and general disposition, she has a sick twelve year old cat that she can’t pay to have checked by the vet, in addition to the rent that she’s three months behind on, and is a heavy drinker. Her only moments of levity seem to be when she meets the flamboyant and eccentric drunk, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). One day, in a desperate bid for some quick cash, Lee decides to sell typed letters from famous people to local bookstores and quickly decides to forge fake ones with better content for higher price values. All goes well for awhile, until her fakes are noticed by the FBI.
Over a year later and this movie still holds up.
First and foremost, yes, McCarthy delivers a great performance. Man, this year alone hasn’t been that kind to her, let alone the last… few years, really. Look, I think she’s got talent. I’ve never denied that she was funny or effective in her dramatic work. But when she does bad comedy, she does really bad comedy. Aggressively bad comedy. So bad that it’s easy to see someone refusing to see her movies and not agree that she’s a good actress. But when you see things like ST. VINCENT or BRIDESMAIDS, or any of her television work, you have to readjust your perspective. I love when McCarthy proves me wrong and I would welcome her to rub her performance here in my face.
Anyway, the movie makes it clear that Lee is not a good person. Well, she’s very rude. She’s very bitter and not always likable. But the script does a solid job of navigating who she is away from other people, showing her humanity. She loves older films and quotes them as she watches, clearly having her own form of fun, she loves her cat far more than she loves any other person, which she later comments on, and for the most part, she’s cynically funny. Her very first line is such a fun zinger. You have these younger women talking about her loudly about her age and one of them says, “Kill me if I ever get that old,” to which Lee says under her breath, “I’ll kill you right now if you ask nicely.” Hell, before the title of the movie appears on screen, she’s stolen mostly used rolls of toilet paper and someone else’s coat. Yeah, she’s that kind of woman and that’s the kind of woman you’re saddled with for the rest of the movie. You know exactly why she’s such a bitch. She’s washed up, she doesn’t care about being nice or anything, and she’s not making the same amount of money that Tom Clancy is making. Seriously, three million dollars? That’s insane! But the movie makes a point to argue why. His book appeals to a demographic, white men craving action, does radio and television, and is charismatic. As the movie puts it, “He plays the game.” Lee, however, refuses to make such adjustments. She is just who she is and is wholly unapologetic about it. Again, give her some credit, she doesn’t try to go all “Forgeries Empire” and become some kind of criminal mastermind. She’s only doing what she does to pay bills and get herself in a comfortable state of living. As well as drink. Can never forget that. Point is, you know you’re not supposed to like her, but you’re supposed to not like her in a positive way.
But as great as McCarthy is, she’s not the one who steals the show. That honor goes to Grant, making Jack arguably my favorite character in the movie. He’s so lovably happy, drunk, gross, and a little despicable. Essentially, the best kind of drinking buddy you can ask for and Grant is phenomenal. He has all the quips, all the trouble-making ideas, is a gay slut, and loves every inch of it. I would swear, if Hollywood wanted to make a direct adaptation of “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book, Grant would almost be a spot-on old Joker. While Lee may treat him like an amusing pet of sorts, it’s clear that Jack loves being around Lee. There’s not a whole lot to his character, Grant’s endearing performance makes it work wonders.
However, the compliments must end at some point, though I have very few problems with the flick.
The movie, sadly, has its bouts of boredom. It’s rare, but the movie did occasionally lose my attention. I wouldn’t even really know where exactly that would happen. Maybe some scenes dragged on a little bit, or some subplots didn’t go anywhere. Actually, now that I’m writing about it, I think that’s exactly how I feel about anything involving Anna (Dolly Wells). Don’t get me wrong, Wells delivers a fair performance and Anna does serve as a nice detour from Lee’s illegalities. With that said, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere with her. The movie teases a budding romance and even goes far enough to mention that she’s written short stories that Lee will read on her behalf and offer an honest opinion. However, Lee doesn’t read the story until the end of the movie and never offers her opinion to Anna, so one sort of has to wonder what the point of that build-up was. Perhaps it’s part of what she’s lost in her choices, her cat, her friend, and also a potential romantic interest, but there’s an issue I take with this too. There’s not enough development for Anna for that loss in the end to carry any emotional weight. Most of her screen time is dedicated to exposition regarding how much these letters go for, authentication, that sort of thing. We spend less than ten minutes actually learning about her. I think the movie should have either cut out Anna altogether, or invest a little more time in her character so the resolution of her relationship with Lee has a little more impact.
Overall, I’d say this movie is pretty good. Perhaps not great and likely won’t make it into anyone’s list of “greatest movies of all time,” but if you want proof that McCarthy can act, then you’re in for a pretty surprising treat of enjoyable cynicism. It’s not perfect, but it’s a perfect Melissa McCarthy movie. As a recommendation, I say this is definitely worth checking out. Younger audiences may not enjoy this all that much, but older audiences definitely will.
My honest rating for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?: 4/5
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