A review of the new film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

On the face of it, this is not a story that would have seemed to have had sufficient appeal to succeed as a movie, since it is centred on two profoundly lonely souls, one of whom is a forger, the other of whom is a serial trickster, both of whom drink far too much and care for others far too little.

Set in New York in 1991, it is the true-life account of how author Lee Israel felt compelled to pay her bills by creating some 400 forgeries of letters from famous writers who, when her nefarious activities become too well-known to buyers of such artefacts, makes an unlikley alliance with the dissolute Jack Hock.

That the film works so well is in large measure due to director Marielle Heller (would a male direcctor have handled the material so sensitively?) and outstanding performances from Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E Grant as Hock (in real lfe an American but portrayed here as quintessentially British), both of whom have been nominated for Academy Awards.

McCarthy made her name in comedic roles in work such as “Bridemaids” but we knew from “St Vincent” that she could do serious roles and here she manages to make a woman who is both louche and lush as someone to be pitied more than despised. For Grant, this is something of a return to his eponymous role in “Withnail And I”, but in this story we cannot help caring for his future while fearing that it is limited.


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