Review: ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ shows Melissa McCarthy in new, promising light

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When Melissa McCarthy’s name is mentioned, comedy immediately comes to my mind: she has been part of a slew of good, and not-so-good, comedies over the past 10 years, and for many, that’s the genre where McCarthy works best.

However, in Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, McCarthy shines as the lead in a dramedy riddled with loneliness, ingenuity and tenderness, a role which might very well earn her a second Oscar nomination after her best supporting actress nomination for 2011’s “Bridesmaids.”

The film is based on the true story of Lee Israel (McCarthy), a writer who uses her talent to impersonate famous authors and sell their forged, and often raunchy, letters in order to make ends meet while her career is at a creative standstill.


(Trailer courtesy of Fox Searchlight’s Youtube channel.)

Israel is an unlikable character — she’s unapologetically frumpy, grouchy, distant, stubborn, caustic and sour. At the beginning of the film, a few scenes made me doubt whether I’d be able to empathize with her in any way. She has poor social skills and is extremely inflexible when it comes to criticism of her work.

McCarthy captures Israel’s messy exterior and combines it with a sweet tenderness that makes audiences connect with her. Through facial expressions and gestures, McCarthy really shows Israel’s general discomfort with social situations and her strong desire to drink to escape. Seeing McCarthy in a dramatic role shows her incredible acting range and, hopefully, audiences will embrace her new side and allow her to expand her work in this genre.

At the end of the day, though, Israel is just a lonely, desperate person who is trying to stay afloat, save her sick cat and not get evicted from her apartment.

Israel is completely aware that the forgery of letters could lead to serious consequences, but her determination to get out of her rut is so strong that she easily brushes past that. The audience can brush past it too, thanks to the sweetness with which Marielle Heller’s directing and the screenplay, co-written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, treat Israel. Heller humanizes Israel in a way that makes her story approachable, in no way glamorizing her crime or making it seem “fun,” but rather, showing how a person with a rough personality can overcome her situation and find kindness in the process.

A lot of that kindness comes from Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Israel’s good friend who couldn’t be more different than her. Basically her polar opposite, Jack provides a positive outlook on life and an over-the-top personality, which balances the film. He even gets involved in Israel’s criminal activity, happy to seize the opportunity to have a little fun with it.

McCarthy and Grant’s chemistry is undeniable. Their rapport with each other makes for some of the better scenes in the film and when their characters fall out, it’s truly heartbreaking.

Verdict: 7/10

This isn’t an example of an exciting biopic or a story of passionate redemption and surrender. This film is all Melissa McCarthy all the time and I’m not sure what it would have been like without her. There are scenes where the story seems bland and the pacing could have been a bit faster, but McCarthy’s ability to transform into someone that we’ve never seen her as before is what makes this whole film remarkable.