Film review: McCarthy & Grant prove they're the real deal in 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'
Melissa McCarthy punches her Award Season ticket with a strong turn as an acerbic, antisocial alcoholic forger in the drama "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" (opening in theaters nationwide Nov. 2)
In short: Failing biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is behind on her rent, loses her job and cannot get anyone to care about the book she's writing. She then turns to literature forgery to pay her bills.
The "crime drama" genre isn't filled with stories about dowdy cat ladies selling letters to nebbish bookstore owners. And the thieves are usually charming pros whose criminal intent is rooted more in personal revenge than monetary gain. This is the story of a lonely, self-destructive asshole writing fake letters from dead famous people so she can pay her past due vet bills.
And the reason "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" works is McCarthy's barbed but empathetic characterization of Israel. She's perfectly insufferable yet also a sympathetic, down-on-her-luck anti-hero of sorts. Her dilemma - being behind on rent and other bills -- is what makes her all-too-relatable. While the film doesn't absolve Israel of her criminality, it does allude to the publishing industry pointedly abandoning her (albeit arcane) biographies in favor of stupid fiction. The very same marketplace that ignores Israel’s storytelling skills begins lapping up her beautifully crafted and completely fraudulent fabrications.
That said, Israel is elementally an alcoholic asshole. It's practically a defining trait. She's a criminal who steals from the dead for personal gain. Yet she's still a character the audience roots for - and this is 100-percent due to McCarthy's brilliant performance. She's hilarious without ever delivering a punchline - McCarthy finds humor in Israel's irascible nature. Yes she's an unfiltered misanthrope, but McCarthy also lets Israel's insecurities, frailties and frustrations slip through the crack's of her acerbic character's armor.
The pairing of McCarthy and Richard E. Grant is one of the best cinematic duos of 2018. His dashing and relaxed flamboyance wonderfully complements McCarthy's rigid and unyielding caustic nature. They're a pair with more in common than either would like to admit, and Grant gleefully plays the rogue charmer to Israel's malcontent.
But this is more than just a pair of fine performances: "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" is one of the complete standout films of the year. It's a focused bit of storytelling with nary an ounce fat on it. The score and soundtrack is perfectly curated for this genre tweener that lives in the small space where crime drama overlaps with comedy.
Final verdict: Feel free to flip a table if McCarthy and Grant are ignored when award nominations are announced. Director Marielle Heller layers a story of existential frustration, intense crime drama and character-based comedy to compose one of the year’s rich film gems.
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?" opens in theaters Nov. 2. This docudrama has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use.