Melissa McCarthy is virtually unrecognizable while portraying New York writer-turned-forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a biographer. When we first meet her, she’s just beginning to write about comedian Fanny Brice. She doesn’t know it yet but her life is about to change when she stole two notes written by Brice. While it’s initially for the better with the amount of money she makes, things soon take a turn for the worse. This is because Lee simply got carried away with what she was doing. The writer took advantage of her wit and studies of various subjects. Before you knew it, Lee takes letters from the likes of Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Noel Coward, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, Louise Brooks, George S. Kaufman, etc. to various stores hoping to make make.
Ultimately, Lee got carried away so much to to point in which the FBI starts to show an interest in her work. Lee allows her friend, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), to help out when things start to be too much for her. Their friendship makes the film work as if it were a buddy comedy–almost.
The story of Lee Israel is a fascinating one. This is an author who could easily have been a success outright as a biographer if she devoted herself. Israel wrote biographies of Katherine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and Dorothy Kilgallen. If not for a rough patch, maybe we’d be celebrating her life in a different way. Maybe there would be another story to tell. Instead, the author decided to profit from forged letters from celebrities.
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s screenplay frames the story in a way to where we want Lee to succeed. Yes, we know it’s wrong but that’s not stopping us from rooting for her. She’s a down-on-your-luck anti-hero and the fact that she’s a woman is a refreshing change. The film focuses less on the FBI investigation and more on her own activities. What’s truly surprising though is that Lee Israel got off easy compared to other cases.
Not only is McCarthy unrecognizable in the role but it’s unlike any performance that we’ve seen from her. The film is a comedy so her performance is not too much of a stretch. While I did not see the film during my time in Toronto, I would liken McCarthy’s appearance to that of Nicole Kidman in Destroyer.
If you’re going to make a name for yourself, I suppose there are worse ways to do so.
DIRECTOR: Marielle Heller
SCREENWRITERS: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavere Smith, and Stephen Spinella