Can You Ever Forgive Me? recounts the captivating true story of celebrity biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), who used her skill at telling other people’s stories to forge hundreds of letters by deceased celebrities like Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker.
With publishers more willing to pay for a new Tom Clancy technothriller than a biography of Fanny Brice, an unemployed Israel struggled to make ends meet before discovering her immense criminal talent. The desperate life of Israel—a woman who loved cats more than people—may seem dry, but thanks to McCarthy’s acerbic performance and snazzy support by Richard E. Grant as Israel’s gay confidante, Jack Hock, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is near-perfect awards bait, at least for its acting duo.
Director Marielle Heller re-creates winter in New York like she were channeling Woody Allen, then lets McCarthy and Grant chew up her city with the crafty dialogue written by Nicole Holofcener, a personal favorite, and Jeff Whitty. Israel is a tough protagonist to like, much less love, yet McCarthy drolly combines her subject’s lack of vanity and arrogance-driven isolation.
Grown-up filmgoers who have been waiting on the impending awards season for thoughtful, character-driven fare that earns its ratings based on racy dialogue rather than blood, sex or violence will not need any apologies from Can You Ever Forgive Me?