Can You Ever Forgive Me
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Spinella
The title of Melissa McCarthy’s new film could also be a question to critics and audiences who have watched her career dive bomb in the last couple of years. She’s gone downhill since blasting onto the film scene with “Bridesmaids,” the introduction to her one-note comedy routine that earned her an Oscar nomination. “Can You Ever Forgive Me” looked like the type of film that could redeem the slapstick actress from dead-end comedy routines. Despite some critics who are over the moon for this true story written by the profound Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”), “Can You Ever Forgive Me” is an odious picture that lacks energy. McCarthy might have been miscast here, replacing Julianne Moore, because the director allows McCarthy some of those usual antics, which ruin this complicated portrayal.
One look at Lee Israel (McCarthy) and you already know she owns a cat, is single and has an alcohol problem. The setting is 1991 and Israel, who was once on the New York Times bestseller list, hasn’t written anything new in a while. In fact, her publisher (Jane Curtain) has dismissed her because of a foul attitude. Her attitude is also responsible for her last girlfriend giving up. Desperate to pay rent and buy groceries, Israel taps into the lucrative market of selling personal memorabilia of famous authors. Finding these pieces are difficult and extremely rare, Israel puts her talents to good use, forging rare documents and selling them as authentic. It’s her and best friend Jack Hock’s (Richard Grant) little secret until things go too far.
"Grant’s interpretation of Hock, however, is quite eccentric and gives this dismal movie it’s only vitality."
Aside from her illegal dealings, Israel is a fairly dull character when she isn’t cursing at someone. Grant’s interpretation of Hock, however, is quite eccentric and gives this dismal movie it’s only vitality. Grant (“Logan”) can’t save the movie, although he might land a supporting actor nomination for trying. “Can You Ever Forgive Me” doesn’t immediately draw the viewer into the story with anything enticing and that’s its first major problem. Director Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl") seems to think we need endless scenes of Israel selling these forgeries instead of spending more time with the consequences in act three.
What Lee Israel pulled off isn’t too different from Mark Whitacre’s crazy story in “The Informant.” Heller never makes this movie funny enough to work solely as a comedy, yet as a drama, it doesn’t seem to take anything serious either. I became disinterested in the subject matter and especially how it’s presented at the beginning. McCarthy has a few decent moments where she balances playing someone that feels partially realistic but its almost always ruined by adding some overplayed joke from her usual repertoire. Even real-life husband Ben Falcone (“Tammy,” “The Boss”) is in the film, yet another reminder McCarthy refuses to step out of her comfort zone.
The answer to the title's question might just be no, after one too many disappointments from McCarthy.