Although Melissa McCarthy is best known for her unfiltered, aggressive and outright hilarious performances (“Bridesmaids”, “The Heat”), it’s clearly evident that this comedic genius is quite capable of tackling dramatic, darkly comedic roles as well. Such is the case in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” from director Marielle Heller, a rather different kind of film that can best be described as pleasantly enjoyable.
McCarthy portrays real life biography writer Lee Israel, who after losing her job and failing to continue her writing career decides to forge historical literary documents and sell them for profit to collectors. Israel wrote letters in the '70s and '80s in the style of historical authors such as Katharine Hepburn and ended up successfully deceiving historical collectors into thinking they were from the actual writers themselves, successfully making sales before facing legal troubles. In what seems like a rather boring, unconventional story for a film, McCarthy’s witty and layered performance holds the film together and prevents it from becoming slow and dull.
This is the kind of film that strongly relies on its script, which is clever, well-organized and filled with a dry style of comedy that McCarthy is perfect at executing. The film does a strong job of having us actually root and care for Israel throughout her fraudulent acts, making us want her to get away with what she’s doing due to her sad lifestyle and unfortunate personal history.
What makes Lee Israel as a film character (not necessarily as a real-life figure) so redeemable is how McCarthy makes us fall in love with her due to her clever one-liners, diligence at making a living and bad luck in pursuing her goals.
Many have said that Israel’s partner in crime Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) is what steals the show, but personally, his performance seems a bit overdone and his character just isn’t as interesting as McCarthy’s. While he does have his comedic moments, Grant is a bit of an overdue, not at all deserving of his Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.
While the film overall isn’t going to have you rushing back to see it anytime soon, it’s completely worth witnessing Melissa McCarthy transform from a goofy comedian to a gifted actor who can reflect the moral layers of a controversial figure. McCarthy knocks it out of the park and gives “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” a beating heart that is a joy to behold.
Final Grade: B+
Dominic LeRose is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of their work, click here.