It’s Oscar season and, whilst we’re seeing less and less of those films that contain shot after shot of trees blowing in the wind (a good thing), we’re also seeing less and less of those films that are just nice, that hark back to when people just made nice movies.
Can You Ever Forgive Me is one of those rare treats, whilst our protagonist, Lee Israel, Melissa McCarthy (“The Happytime Murders“, “Ghostbuster”) in the form of her life, isn’t necessarily the go to hero most would choose, the film, as a whole, is lovely.
The writing, by Nicole Holofcener (“Every Secret Thing”, “Enough Said”) and Jeff Whitty, is perfectly paced, a mix of foul mouth and lovely sentiment. The directing, by Marielle Heller (“Transparent (TV)”, “Casual (TV)”) is lovely and fluid, and the music, by Nate Heller (“The Diary Of A Teenage Girl”, “Noodles (Short)”), is the perfect accompaniment.
Then we come to the acting. McCarthy, who I usually find as subtle as a brick, here is sublime. The role is something I would expect to see someone like Kathy Bates take on and McCarthy more than equals my expectations. Subtle, nuanced, she plays Israel, a woman who prefers cats to humans and is scared of letting people in, wonderfully. She’s still funny, Can You Ever Forgive Me is a darkly humoured film, but she shines in so many other ways too.
Richard E. Grant (“The Hitman’s Bodyguard“, “Logan“) meanwhile is divine as Jack Hock, Israel’s unconventional friend. Grant is born to play these sorts of roles: a Brit in America, boozing, drugged up and, as Israel puts it, “sleeping his way through Manhattan”. He simply shines, effortlessly, and the two combine beautifully.
There is a love interest in the movie for Israel too in the form of bookshop owner Anna, Dolly Wells (“Pride And Prejudice And Zombies“, “Bridget Jones’s Baby”). This comes about because Israel, a biography writer who had a book on The Times best seller list, has fallen on hard times.
No-one knows who she is because she’s hidden behind her biographies and now she’s struggling to write her next one. Whilst performing some research she comes across some old letters from a writer and sells them.
She realises that she can, quite easily, forge her own versions of letters from famous literary gods, and begins to do just that. Selling them across New York until the FBI begin to get involved, and things are stopped rather abruptly.
The movie is based on a true story and comes from Israel’s own autobiography of the same name. Given her penchant for embellishment, who knows how true some parts are, but who cares? When it becomes a movie this good, a little embellishment is more than allowed.
Can You Ever Forgive Me, to me, feels like a beautiful old letter, written in stunning calligraphy, the sort of letter we don’t see anymore. The streets of Manhattan are the paper, white like the snow that covers them, crisp as a new sheet ready to receive the words.
The writing is a love letter, to movies of yore. No huge CGI, no shaky-cam, just life. Perfectly paced, perfectly judged, the calligraphy flowing like the mellifluous music that graces the soundtrack of the movie. Adding to the sense of old fashioned, adding to the beauty.
Can You Ever Forgive Me isn’t perfect, what is? A little editing and tightening here and there wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, it doesn’t detract from this simply lovely film that hopefully means we see more from everyone involved.
1st February 2019
THE QUICK SELL
When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.