TIFF Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
by Raquel Stecher
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir. Marielle Heller
starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone
Based on the real life story of author turned forger Lee Israel, director Marielle Heller’s film dives into the literary world of 1990s NYC, a golden era in publishing and literary artifacts. The story follows the once celebrated biographer (Melissa McCarthy) as she finds herself in dire straits. Her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) isn’t returning her phone calls because no one wants another biography about Fannie Brice. She’s behind on her rent, her cat is sick and flies feed off the squalor in her down trodden apartment. When Israel happens across a letter written by Dorothy Parker tucked away in a book, she sells it and discovers that she can make quite a bit of money off of selling these letters but she needs to get her hands on more. So she uses her writing talents and her newfound penchant for deceit to forge letters from celebrated figures including Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Edna Ferber, Louise Brooks and others. She reunites with an old drinking buddy Jack (Richard E. Grant) who joins her adventures. As things spiral out of control, Lee proves to be ruthless and unapologetic criminal.
Melissa McCarthy embodies the persona of Lee Israel seamlessly. And Richard E. Grant threatens to steal the movie with his brilliant performance as the shifty sidekick Jack. They play off each other beautifully. When I was originally selecting my slate of TIFF films for coverage, I was looking for LGBT films and didn’t realize that this would be one of them. The movie explores Israel’s romantic relationships with women including a budding romance with the used book dealer Anna (Dolly Wells) she’s selling forged letters to. The film dives even deeper into Jack’s sexuality as a homeless gay man living in New York City during the 1990s.
I was expecting some humor in this film but it truly is a straightforward drama and not a comedy or even a dramedy. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a captivating film about two unforgivable tricksters who will forge their way into your heart whether you like it or not.
Fox Searchlight Pictures will release Can You Ever Forgive Me? in theaters on October 19th.
I attended a special press and industry screening of Can You Ever Forgive Me? at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.