It’s been nominated for three Oscars, with Melissa McCarthy shaking off the comedy typecast for a more dramatic role. So, is Can You Ever Forgive Me? worthy of a cinema ticket and the cost of a babysitter?
Let’s begin with the plot. If you’ve yet to hear the full story behind this Marielle Heller-directed biopic (yes, it’s based on a true story), here’s the gist: McCarthy stars as biographer Lee Israel, who in the 1970s and ’80s made her living profiling the likes of Estée Lauder and Katharine Hepburn. In the early 1990s, however, Israel found herself in dire need of finances and without work to obtain them, her difficult attitude having a lot to do with the fact that no one would hire her, or keep her in their employ if they did, and her publishers would not offer advances for the books she proposed to write. Her agent, played rather magnificently in this film by Jane Curtin, suggests Lee find another way to make a living. While researching for her biography on Fanny Brice, she stumbles upon letters written by Brice hidden within a library book. She pilfers them and embellishes one with her typewriter and sells it to a New York City bookshop. Once she felt the excitement of using her wit and writing talent to earn her a few bob and pay her overdue rent, she was hooked. Around the same time, she meets Jack Hock, performed brilliantly but the oh-so-wonderful Richard E Grant. They become fast friends, their love of drink and unconventional lifestyles bonding them immediately. Jack helps Lee sell her works of forgery once word started getting around that her letters were potential phonies. Israel sold more than 400 forged letters, so it was only a matter of time before her crimes would catch up with her, and the FBI was on her tail.
This is not a cat and mouse caper, however. The beauty of this film lies in the human emotion that emanates from the screen. Jack and Lee’s friendship is touching, and Grant and McCarthy make a spectacular duo. You quickly realise why it is Israel lives on her own, friendless (before Jack’s arrival) only for a very sweet black and white cat who Lee loves more than anything (cat people, you’ll love this movie!). While Lee is funny, sharp and quick witted, she is also difficult, and pushes people away before they can get too close to her. (Jack isn’t perfect either – unreliable, irresponsible, and blasé when it comes to the important things in most people’s lives, with a self-destructive attitude to life in general.) This may leave you thinking you won’t like either character, but trust me when I say you will love them both, and root for them ’til the end, which means you will most likely feel rather verklempt at the final scene, so do bring tissues.
Fans of both stars will not be surprised to hear there are countless scenes that will offer a giggle or two, but this is very much the film to show the world just how good a dramatic actor McCarthy really is. And Grant is superb, with Jack reminding you of an older version of Withnail, but with an emotion that grabs you. McCarthy fans will also be delighted to see her husband, Ben Falcone, in this film too (the pair co-starred in at least seven, including The Heat, Identity Thief, and Bridesmaids… he even had a cameo in a Gilmore Girls episode).
Can You Ever Forgive Me? hits cinemas today, so make a date with your best pal and go see it. I promise it will delight. And if you disagree, well, I just hope you can forgive me.
Watch the trailer here.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is in Irish cinemas from February 1.