What do actresses like Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Aniston and Mo’Nique have in common? They are some of the well-known Hollywood comedians who have previously tried their hands at playing dramatic roles with varying degrees of success. Now, joining the list is Melissa McCarthy, taking a break from her usual comedy repertoire seen in movies like Bridesmaids (2011), The Heat (2013) and Spy (2015) and play a rare dramatic role in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Based on a true story, the movie centres on McCarthy’s role as Lee Israel, an alcoholic and has-been bestselling author struggling to make ends meet after recently fired from her day job. Awfully broke and depressed, it wasn’t until she accidentally stumbled upon an old letter in a book that got her an idea to make money: forging letters from famous authors and sell them to collectors. It was a lucrative tactic that works and she even got her hustler friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) involved in her scheme — a result that soon raises more suspicion and eventually attracts the FBI’s attention to investigate the case.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? got off to a deliberate and sometimes laborious start that takes time to pick up the pace. But thankfully, the movie gets interesting once McCarthy’s Lee Israel starts to devise her moneymaking scheme forging literary letters. It also helps that McCarthy manages to pull off an unexpectedly engaging performance for a character who is both cynical and unlikeable.
She pairs well with Richard E. Grant, who provides solid support as Lee’s only close friend and partner-in-crime Jack Hock. They are no doubt the main reason that helps elevate the movie and both of them are well-deserved to be nominated for this year’s Oscars in the respective Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor category.
The movie also benefits from Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s mostly witty and emotionally involving adapted screenplay. Although Marielle Heller’s low-key direction tends to drag in places, she still deserved the credit for bringing out the best in both McCarthy and Grant’s performances. Stephen H. Carter’s production design along with Brandon Trost’s cinematography is just as noteworthy, infusing the movie with a wonderful sense of nostalgic charm and a lived-in feel that reflects the American literary culture of the early 1990s.