Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a struggling autobiography author who finds herself in low demand both professionally and socially. She befriends vagabond Jack Hock and begins to be seduced by his fast and lose approach to life. After accidentally stumbling across some rare letters she decides to set about embellishing and ultimately forging literary letters to make ends meet. Not only does she find herself getting away with these audacious acts but actually begins to take pride in her work.
Melissa McCarthy gives the performance of her career as the misanthropic but tragic Israel. She’s powerfully relatable and incredibly funny. McCarthy has fantastic comedic instincts but proves capable of genuinely moving moments of uncertainty and sadness.
Richard E. Grant does not accept roles much larger than cameos very often, but he excels as the camp, hopelessly alcoholic Jack. The delicate confidence that made Withnail so compelling is still Grant’s forté. His relationship with Israel is completely natural, their chemistry flawless.
As well as being a deep and richly drawn character study, the film is also a rivetting, if low-key crime thriller. There’s an intimacy to the devastating guilt around this crime. The only thing at stake is Israel’s reputation and well-being, high stakes when the character is so well crafted. As Israel’s situation grows ever more hopeless, the sense of peril is unbearable.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is the sheer creativity and charm to Israel’s forgeries. She proclaims herself a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker. The letters have the biting wit to support this assertion. This wit characterises many of Israel’s interactions with others.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a charming, and stylish tale of a very classy crime by an utterly unique personality. It’s beautifully acted and fabulously well written.