McCarthy shines as a woman of forged letters

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (IMDB/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an American biographical drama based on a “confessional” memoir of the same name written by Lee Israel in 2008. Source: ACOFB.

It tells the story of a talented, heavy-drinking writer who decides to energise her failing literary career by forging letters from authors and playwrights who have died. The movie's title is drawn from the writings of the American satirist and poet Dorothy Parker.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) made her living by writing the profiles of high achieving women from the 1960s to the 1980s when she discovers that no one seems interested any longer in publishing her work.

Depressed and insecure, and in desperate need of money to pay the rent of her Manhattan apartment, Lee takes a letter of hers that has been written by Katherine Hepburn, and finds to her surprise that it fetches a lot of money. She does the same with another letter she finds (or steals) that is from Fanny Brice. She then starts forging and selling letters that appear to have been written by deceased writers, actors, and playwrights, and she imbeds into her forgeries the type of content that she thinks will attract a higher price. By the 1990s, she has forged hundreds of letters, and all her debts are paid.

Her partner in crime is Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). For both Lee and Jack, forging celebrities boosts their egos, but also delivers a sizeable amount of money.

When the authenticity of one of Lee’s letters becomes an issue, suspicions of forgery start to surface, and dealers are warned about buying any letters she brings to them. Lee reacts to what is happening by asking Jack to sell forgeries for her.

Melissa McCarthy is best known for the films she has made as an irrepressible comedian who throws herself body and soul into physical, situational comedy that is typically accompanied by biting repartee. Here, she very credibly inhabits the character of Lee Israel to capture the turbulent character of Israel’s real-life personality, and Richard E. Grant impressively plays her partner in crime.

The film’s scripting captures Lee Israel’s caustic wit which tallies with McCarthy’s natural flair for biting repartee, and the movie nicely communicates the dramatic irony of the fact that an author’s best works can be judged as worthy despite the fact they are clever forgeries of the words of others.

– Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan, ACOFB

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, and Dolly Wells. Directed by Marielle Heller. Rated M (Coarse language and sexual references). 106 min.


Can You Ever Forgive Me? (ACOFB)


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