Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Director: Marielle Heller
Writer: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Based on: Lee Israel‘s memoir
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro, Pun Bandhu, Erik LaRay Harvey
Seen on: 13.3.2019

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a biographer. Or rather, she was – the people she would like to write about are barely of interest anymore, and coupled with Lee’s difficult personality, she just isn’t able to sell her books anymore to a publisher. So Lee needs another source of income. When she sells a letter she received from Katherine Hepburn to Anna (Dolly Wells) who sells books and autographs, Lee may have found a way out of her misery: she turns to forgery.

Although Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an interesting portrayal of a complex and unusual woman, it was a little disappointing for me. I just didn’t connect enough with it.

The film poster showing Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) writing something on a very fill desk, a glass of whiskey next to her.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? has two things absolutely going for it: it tells a really good story and it has an excellent cast to bring this story alive. McCarthy and Grant are great (no suprises there), but I was particularly taken with Dolly Wells’ wonderful Anna. She really was a highlight and the film did come most alive to me when Anna and Lee interact, as awkward as it often is.

But the film grew a little long towards the end, and didn’t manage to keep my attention all the way through. I grew impatient with it. Maybe also because I wanted to hear more about the letters themselves and the movie doesn’t seem to share my interest in what Lee wrote.

Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) and Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) having a drink together.

The slightly boring feeling might also come from the fact that the film is very, very brown. I remember Diary of a Teenage Girl also as pretty brown, maybe that’s Heller’s thing, or maybe it’s the usual movie shorthand for the 70s and 80s (the past is brown or something). Whatever it is, I just don’t like it a whole lot. I like my films less monochrome.

Despite this, I definitely think that Can You Ever Forgive Me? is worth seeing – and be it just for the fact that we get a female protagonist who is neither very pretty, nor very nice, nor very charming. Often she’s not even particularly likeable. She’s just a person with issues (and those issues aren’t quirky). And we don’t see enough characters like her on film.

Anna (Dolly Wells) reading a letter that Lee (Melissa McCarthy) brought her in her bookshop.

Summarizing: not bad but not as good as I hoped it would be.

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