Can You Ever Forgive Me?
2018, Drama, In English, 107 minutes
This biographical film, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, is about writer Lee Israel. Once successful, she now hasn’t been able to keep up with the times. One by one her books are rejected by publishers. Lee now has serious financial problems, writer’s block and alcoholism. Marjorie, her agent, consoles Lee by blaming problems writers are having on the Internet. When doing some research for a book about Fanny Brice, Lee finds an old letter Brice wrote. Lee takes it to Anna, a bookstore owner she knows, who offers Lee a very low price explaining that the letter is simply not that interesting. Lee gets an inspiration: why not forge letters from deceased actors, writers and playwrights, and fill them with juicy intimate and scandalous details. Such letters should indeed fetch good money. When one of her letters raises suspicion, Lee is blacklisted by the dealers. However, she hooks up with a flamboyant drug dealer, Jack Hock, who becomes her “front” for selling these forged letters. Jack is caught by the FBI during one his sales, he implicates Lee, and Lee is tried. At the trial, during her testimony, Lee does not regret her actions. She only regrets that her forgeries did not reflect her true writing talent. Of course, it would not be right to reveal the court’s decision.
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 98%
- Metacritic Score: 87
Academy Awards: Nominated, Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy); Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant); Best Screenplay (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty)
National Board of Review: Winner, Top 10 Films
New York Film Critics Circle: Winner, Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant)
Boston Society of Film Critics: Winner, Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy); Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant); Best Screenplay (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty)
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In an impressive departure, comic genius Melissa McCarthy tries her hand at a new kind of character, bringing warmth to her portrayal of a prickly New York writer turned forger. But it’s the human side of the character that makes this McCarthy’s best performance to date, revealing haunting insights into friendship, loneliness, and creative insecurity. That it does so from a uniquely female perspective is a bonus at this particular moment.
Lee Israel may be the single most interesting movie character you will encounter this year, which is not to say that she’s altogether pleasant company. It had been a while since a world-class, life-size misanthrope like Lee has commanded the screen—not another brooding narcissist or a showily difficult cable TV antihero, but a smart, cranky human recognizably made of flesh and blood. Also whiskey, bile, and typewriter ink. Lee is a 3-D grouch of a whole different order.
The range in McCarthy’s performance cannot be overstated. At almost every turn, her character gives the audience plenty of reason not to like her. Yet, with director Heller’s sympathetic approach and McCarthy’s acting, the movie humanizes her beyond caricature. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? is at once a low-stakes crime drama, a buddy comedy, a period piece and a loving tribute to a woman who at this point in her life and career did not feel loved.
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