Saturday, May 04, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: A Dramatic Role Turns to Sardonic Wit

Movie Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Not all writers are cat people, but the most interesting ones seem to be. Lee Israel was an eccentric one, and the 2018 film Can You Ever Forgive Me? explores all her foibles. With Comedian Melissa McCarthy in the starring role, it turns a dramatic role into an often sardonic one with wit and sarcasm as only she can whip at you with an eye or a wink or a sigh. She is great in this memoir based on the adaptation of the book by the same title and makes it her own.

Lee Israel was an author profiling 1970s and '80s women celebrities. But eventually the women she covered grew out of favor and she had trouble making a decent living. One day while doing research she discovered a celebrity letter and found she could sell it at a New York City bookstore and if she ran into letters or notes with spicier, funnier content she could hawk them for even more. Thus began a new career inventing witty memorabilia for sale, and she was quite good at it. Yet, it turned out she wasn't quite as good at it as collectors were at spotting fakes. Can You Ever Forgive Me? takes you through the twists and turns of turning that trade, feeling guilty about it, learning to live with it, and then living with the consequences of discovery.

Joining McCarthy in this breezy romp is the Brit Richard E. Grant, who plays Jack, the homeless gay man-about-town and eventual colleague in crime. He is every bit as genuine in the role as is McCarthy in hers and the two become comrades in trade, although he isn't quite so witting.

Both are socially awkward inepts who fall into each other's orbits quite by accident but become close friends and allies -- their only real friends, actually. In one scene, Jack must help Lee clean her apartment so the supervisor can bring in an exterminator to treat flies, only to discover she hasn't cleaned the apartment for ages. The cat has defecated under the bed and Jack nearly vomits when he looks there to clean. Now, that is a friend! From then on Jack is there to help her clean up the other mess she creates in her new endeavor.

My only real complaints about Can You Ever Forgive Me? are that the film doesn't really take full advantage of the character social ineptness -- there are clues, but if they didn't reference it you might not realize it. And while McCarthy is cheeky in parts of this story, this film doesn't take full advantage of her many comedic talents, although likely the material simply doesn't provide for it. The film becomes a sad tale about two lonely people who just can't catch a break, despite apparent talents to live life otherwise.