Can You Ever Forgive Me

220px-Can_You_Ever_Forgive_Me

It is easy to forget in a world of blockbusters, big star names and an endless cycle of publicity hungry franchises that occasionally a film of real substance, human frailty and hopelessness can brak through and engender some real empathy even though its central character- the author- Lee Israel portrayed brilliantly by Melissa Mc Carthy- is wholly unsympathetic and pretty unlikable on nearly every level.

Alongside McCarthy’s compelling performance credit must also go to Marielle Heller’s direction and Nicole Holefcener and Jeff Whitty’s thoughtful and incisive screenplay which pulls no punches and makes little attempt to draw a veil over some of the less savoury aspects of Israel’s personality. Throw Richard E Grant into the mix with a performance, which just falls short of over the top, as her bitchy friend and eventual co-conspirator Jack Hock and the stage is set for  the makings of a great film.

With her  career having stalled after a commercial failure Lee Israel finds herself on the sidelines of the eighties literary circle where what see sees as lesser talents are commanding advances in the millions whilst she struggles to get a meeting with her agent who eventually tells her that there is no public appetite for her latest project on vaudeville star Fanny Brice.

Totally out of step with the times and lacking the social skills for survival in a new era of celebrity driven authors Israel stumbles upon some personal and intimate typed letters from Katherine Hepburn and hits upon the lucrative idea of forging letters from other notable figures- Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward are amongst those Israel attempts to impersonate- to fame hungry collectors and historians.

All is going well until someone notices some anomalies and a lack of discretion out of character with the person Israel is trying to emulate wherein she has her collar felt by the FBI and has to enrol the services of Jack as she has now been visibly identified, placing her on a watch list.

Of course as always in these situations everything unravels and Israel finds herself in extremely deep water.

It is amazing that a character  as abrasive and rude as Israel can arouse any support from her audience- this is a woman who makes distasteful jokes about her disabled friend after all- but somehow Mc Carthy’s performance manages to make you root for her even though you don’t ostensibly like her.

In essence the film details loneliness and frustration in an articulate way without ever articulating either of these things explicitly. This is its real substance  and what makes it so entertaining.

 

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