Several of the ingredients of a waste of celluloid can be found in Can You Ever Forgive Me. Namely, a debut feature* from a relatively unknown female director** which is a Biography*** about an author no one remembers, starring Melissa McCarthy****.
Yet by casting against type, Director Marielle Heller has unearthed a performance from a comedic Actress whose genius is evidenced by three magnificent feats.
Firstly, McCarthy’s portrayal of literary forger Lee Israel is heartfelt enough that we feel empathy with an alcoholic misanthrope who uses and abuses everyone around her.
Secondly, McCarthy becomes Lee Israel to the point that we forget we are watching Melissa McCarthy. This may seem like damning with faint praise yet, in a reversal reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s turn in Punch Drunk Love, the Actress demonstrates her dramatic side with aplomb. This cannot be said of Adam Sandler nor Steve Carrell, Jason Bateman, Will Smith nor myriad other clowns turned consequential.
Thirdly, McCarthy’s subdued performance is in no way upstaged by Richard E Grant essentially reprising his role as the flamboyant drunkard from 1987’s Withnail and I.
Against all odds, Can You Ever Forgive Me successfully delivers an intriguing story and an engrossing character study.
*Okay not quite, but has anyone actually seen The Diary of a Teenage Girl?
**Of the top 100 grossing films of 2018 only 4% were Directed by females. While this may seem like an alarming statistic, it should be noted that there is no proven link between Box Office success and quality. In fact, it could be argued that the inverse may be true.
***I defy you to name me one great biographical film which isn’t a documentary.
****The star of Life of the Party – a truly awful film