Can You Ever Forgive Me?

In Cinemas Now

Melissa McCarthy is literary fraudster Lee Israel in this biopic from the director of The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Based on Israel's memoir.

Lee Israel made her living in the 1970s and 80s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park).

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Directed by

Written by

Comedy, Drama, True Story & Biography

106mins

Rating: M Offensive language, sexual references & drug use

USA

Redolent of a gentler era, Can You Ever Forgive Me? presents a warm little time capsule of pre-tech New York in 1990—all familiar-looking worn streets, dive bars and an abundance of cosy crumbly bookstores, enhanced by a rich palette of blues, browns, burnt orange, burgundy and mustard.

This true story picks up at arguably the lowest point for protagonist Lee Israel, played by Melissa McCarthy (yass, from Bridesmaids et al), a mildly successful biographer of celebrities including Tallulah Bankhead and Estee Lauder, who was then known for her work in the 1970s and 80s. Following a self-inflicted fall from grace, slowly alienating her editor (Jane Curtain) and repelling her peers with her antisocial behaviour, McCarthy as Israel executes a performance of such authenticity, that at one point I could almost smell (and dry retched to) the funk of her New York apartment.

Israel’s isolation is compounded by alcoholism, a relentlessly surly disposition and a preference for her cat’s company over socialising with humans. The one friend she eventually gains, flamboyant drifter and fellow alcoholic Jack Hock, played excellently by Richard E. Grant, attaches himself to her after a bender in a local bar. Having used up social favours at various literati parties in his quest for hors-d’oeuvres and free wine, he’s been recently excommunicated for drunkenly peeing in a socialite’s coat closet at a party they both attended and becomes Israel’s unlikely confidante and consequent partner in crime.

Their companionship grows as Israel discovers she has a knack for forging personal letters by deceased famous authors—in high demand as collector's items—affording her a sorely needed income. Although Hock’s tenuous devotion often plays second fiddle to more hedonistic pursuits, their rapport and dialogue is acidly funny and at times heartbreaking. Deftly and sensitively directed by Marielle Heller, the pace, narrative and visuals of this wonderfully understated film combine in perfect complementary balance with both McCarthy and Grant’s exceptional performances, and as the heat on Israel increases and things start to fall apart rather shockingly, we are led squirming to the incredibly satisfying conclusion.

Hollywood Reporter

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McCarthy's performance, which is paired with an equally rewarding turn by British actor Richard E. Grant, anchors this bizarre, compelling true story.

indieWire

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Provides the ideal template for McCarthy to project her talents onto a more sophisticated plane, and - complemented by a top-notch Richard E. Grant as Israel's partner-in-crime - she rises to the occasion.

Variety (USA)

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McCarthy's best performance to date, revealing haunting insights into friendship, loneliness, and creative insecurity.

New York Times

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Partly because the movie is so splendidly and completely absorbed in its characters and their milieu, it communicates much more than a quirky appreciation for old books and odd readers.

Rolling Stone

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Believe the Oscar buzz for Melissa McCarthy in this true story of an out-of-work author who took up forgery to pay the bills. McCarthy shows she has what it takes to tackle drama and comedy and all stops in between: the power to amaze.

The Guardian

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There is a melancholic atmosphere to the film at large, a frankness about the impossibility of dreams and the importance of growing old without shackling one's self to an idealised notion of what life will be.

Vulture

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What is on paper a small-time heist film in the vein of the Coen Brothers or Breaking Bad is ultimately a cover for a more observant and relatable portrait of loneliness.

NZ Herald (Francesca Rudkin)

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This is a neat little film bringing to light Israel's fascinating story, with excellent performances making it an enjoyable literary romp.