Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Can You Ever Forgive Me? *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th February, 2019

MelissaMcCarthyLee Israel was a celebrity biographer who experienced declining sales and increased penury in 1990s New York, falling out with her agent and behind with her rent. Her only solace was her aging cat. Having successfully sold one, genuine autograph letter to a local bookshop she then set about forging 400 others, purporting to come from a whole range of literary and media figures from Noel Coward to Dorothy Parker. She even filched some genuine letters from reference libraries. Inevitably her deception was uncovered — one trigger being that one of her “Coward” letters was just too openly gay — though for a while she was able to prolong her success by using her flamboyantly louche homosexual friend Jack as a surrogate salesman. The FBI was now on to her, though once confronted with this sad and somewhat delusional figure, the justice system was fairly lenient on her — and she had the last laugh by writing up her experiences in a book. Lee Israel and Jack are both dead, but in Marielle Heller’s deliciously constructed Can You Ever Forgive Me?, they are brought vividly back to life by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant. McCarthy’s performance as the antisocial, often foul-mouthed whiskey-dependent cat lady, is a tour de force. She is the personification of 50-year-old dowdiness, frowning beneath her fringe. She is both pathetic and achingly funny and the audience soon becomes co-conspirators in her criminal activities as she launches into them with ever increasingly gusto. Richard E Grant has great fun — and is great fun — as the camp blagger Jack, living in a world of fantasy and casual pick-ups. They are an odd couple but their tetchy partnership is one of the most delightful things in this perfectly pitched and nuanced film. Truly a gem.

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