Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin
Adapted from writer Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name, this wildly enjoyable and intelligent comedy drama showcases a wondrous straight acting debut from Melissa McCarthy. When we first encounter McCarthy’s dowdy New York-dwelling writer, Israel already has two showbiz biographies published. Despite her prior success she is struggling to drum up interest for her latest, a study of comedian Fanny Brice, and her misanthropic and alcoholic personality does not endear her to her agent or literary industry folk. Then, while researching the biography in a library, she comes across a signed letter from Brice in the pages of a book. She steals the letter and, after embellishing it with a forged PS, sells it on to a local book dealer. Literary forgery turns out to be a lucrative scam, so she recruits Jack Hock (Grant), an ageing, inappropriate, gay reprobate, to help her. What sounds like a small stakes drama, blossoms into a wry investigation into class, the literary world, and the nature of creativity and friendship, all played out against a memorably fusty, brown-hued portrait of the book trade. The excellent script, co-written by filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, refreshingly refuses to elicit sympathy for the characters, requiring us to take Lee and Jack on their own uncompromising terms. Nor is there a neat self-justifying voiceover at the conclusion or summary of lessons learned. Nevertheless, Melissa McCarthy’s central performance is so skilful that audiences may well find themselves rooting for its manipulative, emotionally distant protagonist, and she is ideally paired with Grant, almost going full Withnail, as the haughty, gleefully lubricious Hock.