“You pissed in a closet,” an actual quote from a film I just watched about the life of an author turned letter forger and it was… incredible. The biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy (The Happytime Murders) and Richard E. Grant (Logan) is based on the Lee Israel memoir of the same name. Fox Searchlight distributed the film directed by Marrielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and it’s only her second feature film with her last outing being nearly 3 years ago.
From the jump the movie details that Lee Israel (McCarthy) was not liked by a single person and her cat is her only friend in the world. The theme of the movie is that she brings an incredible amount of bad juju to herself. Not only is she mean-spirited, but Lee Israel, a once prominent writer of biographies, is living in squalor in a repulsive apartment. You can see the filth as soon as you step in the door, under her bed it’s nauseating, and before she starts committing her crimes the film establishes that we know what rock bottom looks like. Poverty isn’t even strong enough of a word to describe it.
She’s too poor to get medicine for her sick cat and desperate times make the most
desperately desperate Lee. When she starts committing her crimes and obtains some money to catch up on rent and pays for her sick cat’s medical cost from the animal hospital, she’s still a miserable person. She treats her agent, who seems to be the only person that actually cares about her, like a piece of excrement that was found under Lee’s bed earlier in the film. She’s managed to befriend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) but their relationship sprouts from the fact that they’re both lonely, they have no other friends or family, and they decided to compete to see which one can be the most toxic.
McCarthy and Grant’s chemistry with each other is addicting to watch. Their back and forth banter feels organic, and whenever they’re on screen with each other it’s amusing, charming and never feels forced. Grant has more of a dry humor, and McCarthy’s usual shtick is nowhere to be seen, and it greatly benefits the film. Both should have Oscar nominations next year from dynamic performances. When things get serious and Israel is about to get caught because the feds are watching, the visual aspects of the film make everything feel more tense. Director Marielle Heller brings doom and gloom to our main characters just by the close shot and background setting of the bar they frequently visit located in New York. Israel and Hock had an argument because they were getting sloppy with their crimes and they were trying to reconcile at the bar. While they’re reconciling there’s bright lighting and it’s beaming in the room which is symbolic because it seems that things are going to get better for the pair (optimism!); however, right before doing their final job, the room has darkened and there’s shadows amongst their faces. The shadows build up the despair, soon after, the pair are arrested and there are subtle visual cues that are hinted at throughout the film.
Heller’s visual storytelling and direction should get her a nomination during Oscar season. The tension that is built up gives the film an authentic sense of suspense that is usually seen in a heist film. Watching this brought excitement for her work on the upcooming 2019 biopic on Mr. Rogers, starring Tom Hanks. McCarthy’s depth as an actress should not be understated, and I hope she does more dramas in the future because it was a welcome change for her career. A biopic about an author turned literary letter-forger doesn’t sound as glamorous as the life of a rockstar, or as breathtaking as the life of the first man on the moon, but Heller, McCarthy and Grant turned it into one of this year’s most interesting stories to forge its way onto the silver screen.
[a si a si]
[All Mames Wey]
Can You Ever Forgive Me is currently in theaters.