Just so long as you keep making movies like this one.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? — the name of this movie and also what the Academy is going to be asking the general public five years down the line when they give an Oscar to Mahershala Ali for Green Book instead of Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
For the record, Ali is an incredible actor who’s doing amazing things in True Detective right now, but Green Book is not a good movie and Grant’s performance here is easily superior to any of the other nominees.
From director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which is great, and the upcoming Mr. Rogers biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the true story that’s recounted in Lee Israel’s autobiography of the same name.
If you’ve heard of Israel, it’s probably only in reference to the events depicted throughout this film rather than any of her previous literally works, which is really kind of the point of the movie.
That’s because, prior to 1992, Israel wanted nothing more than to make a good, honest living by being a writer.
Of course, any writer would tell you that’s nearly impossible to do, but Israel had a talent, you see. She might have been a bit of a shut-in who would rather spend her evenings with a bottle of whiskey and her cat, but the way she could tap into the minds of others and capture the way they spoke, acted, thought and behaved was rather uncanny.
That particular skill led her to write a handful of best-selling biographies on several famous figures, all of which nearly perfectly portrayed lives that Israel hadn’t actually lived herself.
That well eventually ran dry in 1991, however, after Israel’s latest project — a novel on Estée Lauder — completely bombed, then sending the former writer into a downward spiral of alcoholism, writer's block and depression.
The cure for all those problems? Why, it’s forging documents, of course!
After repeatedly begging her agent for one more chance at writing a novel, while also just trying to earn any form of respect from anyone even remotely involved in the publishing business, Israel eventually decides she’s had enough. If no one wants to take her seriously as a writer, that’s fine. She’ll just write under someone else’s name, instead.
That ‘someone else’ just so happened to usually take the form of some sort of famous literally figure, more often than not.
Israel first got the idea when she found an old letter written by Fanny Price. She turns it into a collectors shop, who — wouldn’t you know it — pays a pretty penny for that kind of thing. The wheels in her head start turning and, suddenly, she begins forging these letters all on her own, making people think that their favorite authors have left behind these priceless letters when it’s really just Israel’s imagination doing all the work.
Okay, she’s not entirely alone in all of this. She’s at the bar one afternoon when she befriends Jack Hock (Grant) — a rather flamboyant partner-in-crime who is no stranger to criminal activity himself.
Sooner or later, however, the two of them begin finding themselves in legal trouble when people start getting suspicious that Israel’s letters aren’t as authentic as she claims. That leads to FBI involvement, a court case and a whole mess of complications that Israel tried so desperately to avoid.
It goes without saying, at this point, that the main reason to see Can You Ever Forgive Me? is because of the performances. I’m going to say it again anyway, though, as McCarthy and Grant are acting on a whole other level in this film.
I’ve long been saying that McCarthy has all the potential in the world to be considered a great actress if she’d stop taking these dopy comedies likes Tammy, Identity Theft, The Boss or a million others and actually try to do something semi-serious. Here, she does, and it turns out I was right because she crushes this role. There are moments played for comedy, sure, but it’s the dramatic moments that really stick out as McCarthy locks into the mindset and the overall misfortune of this character, turning it into something so memorable and deep.
It’s hard to say that Grant steals the show from McCarthy when she’s giving such a good performance — and yet, Grant almost steals the show here. His energy, charisma and overall enthusiasm for acting is so infectious when you see him in Can You Ever Forgive Me? that you can’t help but smile whenever he’s on screen.
You’re smiling, even though these aren’t necessarily the most moral characters in the world.
Heller wisely understands that and doesn’t try to make any excuse for their actions. At the end of the day, what Israel did was still criminal and wrong, which both the character and the movie openly acknowledge.
Yet, Can You Ever Forgive Me? also puts that in a wider context by really diving into the shitty world that Israel and Hock are living in. Nobody will take them seriously — not in terms of their career or their personal lives — even when they’re trying to be stand-up, honest people. The only way to get anywhere in life, they figure, is to apply their talents by any means necessary.
That provides a really interesting look into the lives of these two, even if the script can’t overall match some of the performances. It’s not that the film isn’t well written, it’s just that it’s missing some of the bite or satire something like The Social Network or The Wolf of Wall Street — both of which are movies with similar themes or content and ultimately seem a bit more re-watchable than Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Nonetheless, this is still a well-made biopic that manages to avoid that made-for-TV vibe that inevitably would have been felt if this was put in the hands of nearly any other director.
Watch the trailer for Can You Ever Forgive Me? here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the film!
'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' - We forgive you, Melissa McCarthy [REVIEW]8