WHAT makes this movie work is the screenplay which helps you identify and understand the very flawed central character, and the brilliant actors who carry the story forward.
It is no wonder that Can You Ever Forgive Me? garnered three recent Oscar nominations – Melissa McCarthy for best actress, Richard E. Grant for best supporting actor, and Nicole Holofcener with Jeff Whitty for best adapted screenplay.
The latter two had won the Writers Guild Award for best adapted screenplay on Feb 17.
The movie is based on Lee Israel’s confessional memoir, about how she turned from being a celebrated biographer to a forger after falling on hard times.
The story begins in 1991. When her last book proves a failure, Lee finds herself unable to pay her rent or get treatment for her beloved cat.
She tries to get an advance from her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) for her next book, but is turned down.
Forced to sell her possessions, Lee goes to bookstore owner Anna (Dolly Wells) who buys a thank you note from actress Katharine Hepburn from her.
When Anna tells Lee that collectors like this kind of star memorabilia, this inspires Lee’s new life as a forger, creating interesting notes and letters from well-known writers such as Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, and selling them to various booksellers.
Along the way, Lee reconnects with an old acquaintance Jack Hock (Grant) who helps her straighten out her apartment and her life, and even sell her forgeries.
The movie does not condone what Lee does, nor does it ever try to justify her actions.
Lee’s only regret comes from deceiving her friend Anna.
Instead, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a riveting story about a gifted writer who would rather write other people’s stories.
Both McCarthy and Grant are brilliant in their roles. The former proves that she can move beyond comedy, while the latter finally shines in a role that does full justice to his talent.
If you want a good story, this is the movie to watch.