Wow….. I’ve always been a Melissa McCarthy fan, but I’ve never seen her in this light. This is a very different type of project for her. This is no Identity Thief or Bridesmaids. While McCarthy gets to flex her very buff comedic muscle in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, this is much more of a drama. I’m so glad that her first big dramatic project was well written, and this proves that she can handle dramatic roles. So let’s get into why this film is a win and why I’m so excited for McCarthy’s future in more serious films.
Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, a writer who’s down her luck. She hasn’t written anything in a while and her agent is telling her that no one is interested in her stuff right now. Facing huge financial insecurity, she happens to come upon this old letter from Dorothy Parker, and when she tries to get some money for it, she’s told she could get more if wasn’t so bland. She starts forging letters from famous literary figures and turning profits for them, until the FBI starts to get a whiff of what she’s up to. The number one thing this film has going for it is McCarthy in the lead role. She has so much to play with here because of the very unique and interesting nature of Lee Israel.
You want a lead to be someone interesting that will be able to carry the film and this character is exactly that. At first we see her as a rough almost washed up writer, but she’s very soft underneath the hard exterior. Both McCarthy and the script do a great job of showing that. There are scenes where she is interacting with different people and it’s so masterfully written, in ways that gives us a view into her true character. I didn’t know anything about Lee Israel or her story, but I’m so glad I was introduced to it in this way. The film isn’t a tale of a selfish criminal, it’s a story of someone that’s been beaten down by circumstances and is just trying to get by. She’s also incredibly vulnerable, that comes through so clearly with her relationship with her cat, whom she describes as “the only soul who ever truly loved me” and with a woman who she has a spark with.
Richard E. Grant plays Jack Hock, who’s a friend of hers and is the only one who knows what she’s doing. Grant does exceedingly well with the role, he is extremely charismatic and fits into the character perfectly. Jack is a very outgoing man and is even worse off in his financial circumstances than Lee, so their pairing up makes a lot of sense and they have really good working chemistry. Both the comedic bits and dramatic moments between them work almost perfectly, when you put two talents like this together…. how could it not? Of course I won’t say what happens, but the last couple scenes are especially great, extremely moving. McCarthy delivers an incredibly raw, honest monologue that’ll have you glued to the screen. In an interview, Melissa’s mother said that when she and others went to see the film, they were all just open mouthed, amazed at what they were seeing, and I could not agree more.
Then there’s another final scene that just perfectly encapsulates the connection and relationship between Lee and Richard, it’s very moving. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a career game changer for Melissa McCarthy and is an overall great film. This is one of the Oscar films you need to check out!