Can You Ever Forgive Me? Rated R
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is now available on home video, and is based on the true story of New York writer Lee Israel; it’s driven by strong acting performances by the two lead characters. The film has received three Oscar nominations, but does have some content concerns.
The film is directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). It is written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty who both received Oscar nominations for the film, which is based on the 2008 book Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel, who died in 2014.
As the film begins in 1991, Lee, played by Melissa McCarthy (St. Vincent, Bridesmaids), is drinking at her desk at work and after two younger women walk by and make a derisive comment to her, she becomes verbally abusive to co-workers and her boss. She is promptly fired. Her life is a mess. She is now without a job, three months behind on her rent, and can’t get her cat the treatment it needs because she has an overdue balance at the veterinarian’s office which she can’t pay. She is an author of biographies that don’t sell, notably of Fanny Brice. Marjorie, her literary agent, played by Golden Globe nominee Jane Curtin (Kate and Allie, Saturday Night Live), won’t even return her calls. When Lee attends a party that Marjorie is hosting just so that she could talk to her, Lee ends up stealing another party goer’s coat on the way out. Yep, she’s a real charmer.Lee lives a miserable existence as an alcoholic, was formerly married to a man, is now gay and had a girlfriend years ago, but admits to liking cats more than people.
When she begins research for a new Brice biography, she finds an actual letter that Brice had written in a book. She finds that the letter is valuable to the independent book stores she brings it to. This gets her to thinking that she could fake letters of famous people. That’s just what she does as a literary forger, adding her own thoughts, and at times fake signatures, to letters by Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Marlene Dietrich and others. The more interesting the letter, the more the book stores, and later collectors, will be willing to pay for them. She even steals real documents from libraries while pretending to do research.
Lee is joined in her crimes by Jack Hoch, played by Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park). With the exception of being a fellow alcoholic, Jack is in many ways the total opposite of Lee, an outgoing and flamboyant promiscuous homosexual.
The film does a good job of recreating the New York scene from nearly 30 years ago. There is also a good use of music (Billie Holiday, Paul Simon, etc.) in the film. But despite the excellent performances of McCarthy and Grant, each of whom have received Oscar nominations for this role, I didn’t like this film. It was slow moving, extremely depressing, morally bankrupt, and there were no likeable characters in the film.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names, deception, self-absorption, drinking, drugs, and promiscuity.
Even though this movie has strong acting performances by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant and good music, the film is slow, depressing and has a number of content issues.