Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Film Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Fraud, forgery and a feline-loving culprit – Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an unlikely crime caper set in early 90s New York buoyed by two brilliant lead performances. 

Based on a true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me? recounts the trials and tribulations of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a semi-successful, alcoholic and lonely biographical author who has fallen on hard times and is struggling to overcome writer's block. Scorned by her publisher and out of step with her peers, Lee is at a loss for when the next paycheck will arrive - until she discovers a hidden talent for forgery.

Using her trusty typewriter, Lee sets about forging personal letters from famous authors and literary figures. Seen as collector's items to the right buyer, these letters can sell for upward of $300 – money that Lee is determined to score for herself.

A film about forging letters might not sound super thrilling on paper (pun intended), but Can You Ever Forgive Me? takes this intriguing premise and lends it a lot of weight – a lot of which stems from McCarthy's disappearance into the role of Israel.

Far from her usual character of the foul-mouthed loser (well, not that far), McCarthy succeeds in getting the audience to sympathise with her plight, even while she's scamming people of hundreds and thousands of dollars.

The laughs and wit you would expect is still there, but it's undercut with an element of sadness and loneliness. The screenplay never swaps a serious emotional beat for a cheap gag – it's more important we feel the full weight of Lee's isolation, the cyclical nature of being alone and how this brief foray into crime is both giving her a new lease on life and robbing her of a future.

Richard E Grant also delivers a standout performance as Jack Hock, Lee's friend and partner in crime. Flamboyant but tragic, Grant deserves a raft of nominations for his commitment to the role.

The plot is kind of slow and the overwhelming feeling of melancholy makes it a film I'm unlikely to revisit, but the direction, cinematography and mournful jazz score captures the atmosphere and isolation of living in New York City. Exemplary in a technical sense and compelling in an emotional one, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is flying under the radar, but deserves a wider audience.

The Verdict: 8/10

McCarthy and Grant make this sombre tale worth your time. A predictable plot does take the wind out of its sails somewhat, but the focus on character over thrills is what elevates it to something deserving of attention.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is in cinemas across Australia this Thursday December 6.


  1. I'm not a fan of McCarthy but everyone has been raving about Grant that I feel like I need to see this. I probably will sometime this week. Great review!

  2. It would be amazing if McCarthy could get better roles after this. Seems like a good role for her, and a good movie! Finally!



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