Can You Ever Forgive Me

First Hit: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a biographer who is fixated on writing Fanny Brice biographies. She appeared once on the NYT Best Seller list but that was years ago. Her Agent tells her she’s got to change, but Lee, an obsessive alcoholic, likes her alienating way of living.

Then Lee loses her late-night editing job because she drinks and swears at her co-workers. Broke, with a sick cat, and behind in her rent she stumbles across an envelope with a typed and signed letter from a famous deceased author. She takes this letter to a book and artifact seller who gives her a few hundred dollars.

Realizing that she could sell forge letters with old typewriters and seasoned paper, she begins a quest of creating letters, signing them, and selling them to collectors and people who sell to collectors.

She befriends Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) who is a homeless gay man at a bar who is also a drunk. Together the conspire to make and sell lots of these fake letters. Enjoying the fruits of their labor they eat well and Israel gets her old cat healed. Anna (Dolly Wells), one of the buyers of Lee’s fake letter, likes Lee and suggests they have dinner together. Sensing that Anna wants to get close, Lee blows her off but not before she accepts one of Anna’s short stories Anna would like feedback on.

This points out one of the incomplete and unsatisfying parts of the film. The film shows Lee reading this short story but never getting back to Anna. Another aspect of the story I would have liked more visibility into was why was Israel so cold, mean, and alienating towards people.

The forgeries are found out and the FBI is now after Lee. Getting caught through another one of Hock’s blunders, they create a plan to steal real letters and replace the real letters with her fakes.

As one imagines, she gets caught and is told to make restitution for her crimes. The result she now has something to write about and this story is the result.

McCarthy is sublime as Israel. She made this unlikeable character engaging, curiously interesting, and watchable. Grant was fantastic as the bon vivant wanna be that lived life on his charm alone. Wells was strikingly engaging as the bookseller who cared about Israel. I loved her trusting softness. Jane Curtin as Israel’s agent Marjorie was excellent, direct and forthcoming. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty wrote a strong and engaging screenplay. Marielle Heller did an excellent job of directing this film except I would have liked some closure on Anna’s script storyline.

Overall: This was a crafted film with excellent acting.