‘CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?’ is directed by Marielle Heller. This biopic stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant and tells the story of Lee Israel. A celebrity biographer who has watched her once successful career fade into obscurity. Primarily because of her abrasive attitude, and the destruction of the relationships in her life both personal and professional. Her only connection is with her aging cat. Her monthly bills are mounting, and with no money coming in she stumbles into a scheme of forging letters from dead authors and playwrights that she can then sell to collectors and dealers.
This script is based on the memoirs of Lee Israel who passed away in 2014. It’s without question an interesting story on paper. One that could explore the world of literary memorabilia and art forgery. But regardless of that promising synopsis, it was Melissa McCarthy in the lead that made this film appeal to me. I love movies obviously. However, I also enjoy following performers. I love watching actors and actresses take on different roles outside of their wheelhouse to showcase their range much like McCarthy did by taking on the task of embodying this biographer.
Going in I had many more curiosities than I did expectations and walking out of the theater I was impressed and entertained by this film. I think McCarthy did an excellent job in this role. She was able to quickly build a brash salty personality for the character. Through her performance I was very easily able to see how she had built many walls in her life to close off the outside world. But with a deteriorating living situation it was almost like she shut-down on herself with a completely broken spirit which McCarthy delivered very subtly, but still with plenty of dramatic impact.
CHECK OUT MY VIDEO REVIEW OVER ON OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL!
Despite these positives, I wanted to know more about why this mental-state had taken over her other than the small mentions the script provided. Moments of dialogue touch on it but I would have liked a deeper dive into this persona. She at one time had a flourishing career that had faded because of her attitude. I think had the film explored more about what caused this decent it would have enabled me to connect with the character much more than I already did. But as it was, McCarthy (at times) was able to disappear inside this role.
She delivered emotional intensity extremely well in a few scenes that actually managed to hit with impact despite not really feeling too sorry for her. She was in a position brought on herself, but regardless of that I was able to connect with the fractured emotional state she was experiencing during these years in her life. Also, it could have been the true personality of Lee Israel, and simply McCarthy’s delivery ironically being similar. But I felt during the comedic, or lighter moments of the story-line that the dialogue felt a little overly tailored to McCarthy’s usual comical persona.
Despite these scenes hitting with some laughs and chuckles, a handful of the lines felt much more like those from past McCarthy films than they felt like genuine dialogue from this person she was portraying. I wouldn’t say these scenes hindered the film at all, they actually worked to lighten to mood as intended. But they were noticeable, and for very short moments they did pull my thought process from the narrative that was playing out.
Richard E. Grant added a fantastic performance to complement McCarthy perfectly. He was charming. He had genuine depth to his personality. You knew he was an untrustworthy person with only his best interests in mind. But regardless, you couldn’t help but like him because of his energy and charisma which Grant pulled this off effortlessly through his smooth delivery. His rapport with McCarthy was also very natural. Neither had anyone else and despite their differences in personality, and when it came down to it, neither really connecting with the other. It was the lack of options in life that they had in common. Two people who had severed all genuine connections with people in their lives and both McCarthy and Grant captured this with sincerity through their awkward chemistry with one another.
I enjoyed this film from a technical aspect as well. The production design was detailed and did an effective job of capturing the time-period. I also thoroughly enjoyed the various book-stores she visits throughout the story. These settings really pulled me into this world of writing, book collecting, and the literary subculture of the time-period in general. The musical score was subtle but added a nice charm to the atmosphere of the story-line. The score balanced perfectly with the more moody parts of the film to hit various emotional beats of the script nicely.
I also enjoyed the direction. It captured many locations with a nice depth that pulled me into the scenes with the character deep inside these old book stores and libraries. It wasn’t flashy, and overall the film at first glance does have a familiar polish to it. But as the scenes progress I was quickly able to appreciate the artistic eye that Marielle Heller brought to this project. The source-material may have been cold at times, but the vibe of the film overall was warm with rich backdrops and lighting choices that added a feeling of comfort while watching.
I enjoyed the substance that was there despite wanting a little more foundation to start things off. The progression of the story does feel by-the-numbers in some instances. I also think with the effort McCarthy poured into this character that possibly hitting more of the dramatic elements could have gone a long way in creating truly intriguing cinema. But if you enjoy biopic’s or are a fan of McCarthy it’s certainly worth checking out.