The Happytime Murders‘ Melissa McCarthy asks our forgiveness in this biography of biographer Lee Israel.
The woman who put Sean Spicer on the map turns her efforts to a different kind of liar; one who can actually read. To make money for rent, booze and her cat’s vet bills, Israel starts forging letters by writers like Noël Coward and finds that crime not only pays, but validates her talents as a writer. “I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker!”
The second library-theft movie in 6 months, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a much gentler picture than American Animals, given a dusty New York bookshop atmosphere by director Marielle Heller; a dry tone matched by Nate Heller’s jazzy score and Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s taciturn screenplay that isn’t quite Whitty enough (Israel’s claim that “caustic wit is my religion” is hardly borne out by her sweary dialogue) but makes up for it in well-realised, sensitively written characters.
If not exactly likeable, McCarthy makes Israel at least relatable (for cat-loving misanthropic writers at least) and her chemistry with Richard E. Grant’s charming vagrant Jack Hock is one thing that cannot be faked. Heller bottles this friendship with a warm sense of sadness that catches the back of the throat like whiskey.
Lacking in humour, Can You Ever Forgive Me remains worth watching for the many scenes between Grant being sparkly and McCarthy being spicy.