Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Directed by Marielle Heller

Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty based on ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ by Lee Israel

Starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin, Dolly Wells, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone


As a film critic, I can understand “writers block,” that notion that the blank page stares back at you when you’ve hit a dry spell. Today, it’s looking at the blinking cursor.

Marielle Heler and Melissa McCarthy are here to remind writers everywhere that there is no such thing as ‘writers block’ in their latest film, “Can You Every Forgive Me?”

Based on the real life biographer, Lee Israel who made her living, originally with at least one ‘New York Times’ bestselling novel has hit her bout of writers block. As her publisher Marjorie (Jane Curtin) reminds us, the writer’s job doesn’t just stop when the last page is finished and that being a writer is about putting yourself out there on the interview circuit, allowing people to see you for who you are.

Israel was content with being a recluse, tending to her cats and her drinking problem. Sitting on her last dime, she takes her publisher’s advice literally tapping into her “creative side,” but not before she meets Jack Hock, played beautifully by Richard E. Grant and Oscar-worthy turn if there ever was one.

A rapscallion himself, they are two peas in a pod when they meet each other at the local watering hole. While Lee can take all the credit for coming up with her plan, Jack really brought out the best in her, something Ms. Holofcener and Mr. Whitty emphasize; that underneath all the dry, humorless stares, Lee Israel was a human being and a redeemable character at that.

The central events in this film reminded me of Bart Layton’s “American Animals” from earlier this year where the characters set out to do something in a moment of desperation only to realize that they really were better than the events they set in motion.

There’s a scene midway through the movie where, as we get to know Jack better, he gets involved in her scheme and she gets very protective when he tries to run around her. McCarthy, who is usually known for her boisterous personality (see the ill-fated “Happytime Murders” from earlier this year) is anything but here.

I’ve had a problem in the past where she’s played the “oh, woe is me” type character who uses laughs to make us feel better about not only her character, but ourselves as well. Here, she taps into her dramatic side, using dry humor to underpin the drama. It helps that Mr. Grant is along for the ride.

Where Ms. McCarthy would play the humor, she lets Mr. Grant’s natural charm and grace, and class, dictate the dark humor. She feeds right into his antics and her performance here is a breath of fresh air.

This is her Robin Williams moment tapping into the drama, the humor, the humanist that can get under our skin and stay there with us for the rest of our days, it’s that powerful.

The technical side of this film is just as important as the acting is, especially Brandon Trost’s cinematography where he captures the rich, detailed and dirty New York City environment in the 1970’s through the use of colored filters amplifying the character’s emotional states even further.

In addition to Israel’s exploits, the film folds in a very gay-centric story through Lee’s past relationships and Jack’s current affairs. Though it probably could have been explored further Israel’s dinner with Anna (Dolly Wells) is a poignant moment. Her conversation with Elaine (Anna Deavere Smith) in Central Park is perhaps the finest moment in the film.

For a film that had a somewhat troubled beginning, the final product has produced two serious Awards contenders in Mr. Grant and Ms. McCarthy. Ms. Heller’s direction is deft, while the screenplay hits all the right notes.

If you’re feeling bummed by “The Happytime Murders,” don’t. She doesn’t have to beg for it, but “Can You Forgive Me?” is Melissa McCarthy’s finest hour.

Rating 3.75 out of 4