I never thought I’d see a film which made the audience laugh at the epilogue notes that precede the credits of true story films. But Can You Ever Forgive Me? Is that kind of film. If you’re thinking ‘well, what sort of film is that?’ then… let’s see if we can answer that together.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a strange mix of some elements that were destined to make a movie added to a whole lot of How Did This Ever Get Made? Based on the autobiography of the same name by writer Lee Israel (played in the film by Melissa McCarthy), the film follows Israel’s criminal exploits as she turns to creating literary forgeries when her writing career grinds to a halt. A poor, unfriendly, middle-aged lesbian, who by her own admission ‘likes cats better than humans,’ Israel is hardly the average subject for a biopic, nor the expected mastermind of a great con. It’s perhaps fitting then that she be played by Melissa McCarthy, a comedy actor as of yet unable to break into dramatic work.
While her casting may have been an unconventional choice (the original choice for the role, Julianne Moore, is much more the serious actor one would expect for such a biopic), it is one that pays off in spades. McCarthy deftly adapts her comedy skills to suit the script’s understated dark wit, and delivers emotional moments with a rawness and authenticity that she has rarely been called upon to explore in previous roles. Richard E. Grant’s performance as Israel’s partner in crime Jack Hock, equal parts camp and heartfelt, is just as compelling, and the two actors share a chemistry that makes their characters’ unlikely friendship believable and compelling.
Lee is not the easiest character to warm to, with her seeming inability to be anything less than terribly rude to anyone she meets, but the double act of McCarthy’s all-too-human performance and a screenplay that carefully lets us into the writer’s life one unpaid vets bill at a time means that before long we can’t help but root for the down-on-her-luck biographer and her ridiculous scheme to con money out of rich literary collectors.
With a script that balances humour and heart, and a cast with the skill to pull off both with equal aplomb, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one unlikely biopic you’ll be glad made it to the screen.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? opens in UK cinemas on 1st February 2019.