By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas December 6th
The best decision the Academy ever made was nominating Melissa McCarthy for an Oscar for her career-defining role in 2011’s hit comedy Bridesmaids. While she’s starred in some hit movies since then, none, in my opinion, have come close to the success of Bridesmaids. However, with her latest, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, McCarthy delivers a career high performance in what I sincerely hope brings her a second much-deserved Oscar nomination.
McCarthy takes on the role of real life author Lee Israel, who, by the time we meet her in this film, has long since past the prime of her career. Her once best-selling biographies have stopped selling, her agent doesn’t want to see her, and she continues to persist on writing a book that, quite frankly, nobody seems interested in reading. But it’s in the midst of writers block that she discovers the key to bringing about some financial stability, albeit in less than legal manners. Lee begins to embellish personal letters from prominent celebrities, a means of making money that soon, as expected, begins to bring about legal turmoil.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a fascinating fact-based biopic about a biographer who created fascinating letters devoid of facts. While Lee doesn’t necessarily begin as the nicest of people, years of frustrations having been built up after being kicked around in the literary world, you can’t help but empathise with her situation. From her sick cat to her late rent to her lack of friends to, perhaps most frighteningly for someone like myself, her near-constant writer’s block. The situations are familiar, but the empathy is real, and she’s a complicated character I was enthralled by from the first frame to the last.
Key to this is a screenplay that makes the most of its fairly simple premise. Screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty delve deep into the characters they have to play with, constantly evolving and deepening the core relationship between Israel and her newfound friend Jack Hock, played brilliantly and ever-charmingly by Richard E. Grant. The story they have to deal with could easily warrant itself to a thirty minute short, which would forgive its jarring dramatic turns and moments of abrupt blackmail (the blackmail scene comes almost out of nowhere and plays into very little), but at 106 minutes it remains short, to the point and endlessly engaging, even if it’s a little predictable.
A lot of this is thanks to the captivating, emotionally rich performances, but what I found most impressive was Marielle Heller’s steady direction. Despite its occasional cliché, she never allows this film to flow like a typical biopic. Its structure and style is akin to that of 2005’s Capote. Heller’s able to get the most of all involved with this project, which, despite a noticeable lack of necessary dramatic weight, I found myself constantly enjoying. There’s a noticeable charm to its story that, by the end of it, you’ll be in the midst of a wondrous sensation that’ll have you just as jazzed as you would be had you been able to get away with this film’s central crime.
3 1/2 Stars
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