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Deftly directed and laced with dark wit, Can You Ever Forgive Me? proves a compelling showcase for deeply affecting work from Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy.
All Critics (275)
| Top Critics (41)
| Fresh (269)
| Rotten (6)
McCarthy is very good at showing how Lee's unpleasant bad temper and rudeness were not simply part of her psychological makeup: they were symptoms of existential panic.
There are many films that portray the writing life, but not many that can be accused of realism. Anybody contemplating a literary career should be sat down and forced to watch Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Can You Ever Forgive Me? works, largely, because director Marielle Heller and screenwriter Nicole Holofcener approach this totally unlikeable character from a place of unconditional love and understanding.
McCarthy plays it straight, allowing her talent as an actress - often hidden under the dreck for which she draws big paychecks - to shine through.
It's not a rebirth for McCarthy, but it's an awakening, and a reminder of what she can do when she dives into a project worthy of her talents.
Melissa McCarthy's bid for dramatic cred is just nasty enough to be enjoyable, thanks hugely to Richard E. Grant's gleeful turn as a dimwitted but high-spirited end-of-the-line party boy who befriends our heroine just as she touches bottom.
Melissa McCarthy plays celebrity biographer Lee Israel as she reaches the nadir of her career.
May this film lead to more dramatic roles for McCarthy, and a full-blown Richard E. Grant renaissance.
"As characters and as actors, they are for each other".
Lee Israel and Jack Hock come across as scoundrels that we have some sympathy for. They are crooks, but their victims are, for the most part, not entirely innocent either. This film walks that narrow path between these sympathies very adroitly.
Both McCarthy and Grant are brilliant in their roles.
Melissa McCarthy is, not surprisingly, terrific in this juicy dramatic role.
Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant as terribly witty rejects who find each other moping in the dregs of self-medication in the bowels of New York City. As effective a personality study as you are ever to see, this work resonates long after the credits roll as an American Masterpiece Theater, an answer to the question: what happens to wasted talent in the Land Of Opportunity? Must see, and proof that New York City still has something to say.
Mad props to Melissa McCarthy for turning it around with this after Happytime Murders and Life of the Party. Actually after basically every single thing I've seen her in up until this point. I honestly can't think of a single role I've liked her in. Until Lee Israel of course, because as her, in this, McCarthy is great.
Respect for Richard E. Grant in the supporting role as well.
It took me a little while after I'd finished watching Can You Ever Forgive Me? to realise I liked it as much as I did, but I did.
The impression I have is that this is a film struggling to find something to say with the material it has, but the result, however dull at times, manages to be enjoyable and interesting thanks to McCarthy and Grant, who are both too good and have an excellent chemistry together.
Melissa McCarthy adopts the Oscar bait route of pre-approved credibility, which usually means playing a tragic, self-destructive real-life figure, stripping away any sense of vanity, and working with an up-and-coming indie film director (Diary of a Teenage Girl's Marielle Heller). The recipe is alive and well in the consistently entertaining, but only for so far, Can You Ever Forgive Me? which traces the life of literary author Lee Israel, a biographer who nobody wants to read, that is, until she starts "discovering" lost letters from the likes of Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, and other famous authors. In total, Israel forged 400 letters and sold them to private collectors and archivists until the FBI charged her with fraud. Because of the relatively low-stakes nature of her accidental jaunt into criminality, the "how" is less interesting than the budding friendship formed between Israel and a malcontent bawdy barfly/partner in crime (Richard E. Grant). Their rapport is wonderful and they truly seem to be having a ball with their ill-gotten gains, yet they still maintain a vulnerability even to the very end. In many ways this film does for McCarthy and her standard barrage of caustic, anti-social characters what Punch-Drunk Love did for the Adam Sandler introverted goofball sad-sack barely concealing his explosive rage. It's a grounded deconstruction on that familiar movie archetype we've seen from a popular comic actor. There are some interesting aspects about Israel's lonely life, like a timid female bookshop owner who circles around a potential romance with Israel, but it's really a two-hander of a movie between Grant and McCarthy. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a slight character-driven drama with comedic elements, but McCarthy shows that she has the acting chops to play multi-faceted characters in any genre if given the right opportunity.
Nate's Grade: B
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