Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the story of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a once-great biographer of prolific women who has run dry in the early 1990s. Faced with dwindling resources, Israel undertakes a scheme to forge letters from deceased playwrights and authors and selling them at a premium. As her operation becomes more complex, Israel ropes in her eccentric friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) and the two concoct ways to swindle several buyers and collectors across New York City.
What works in Can You Ever Forgive Me? is McCarthy and the escalating intrigue. While typically associated with comedic roles, McCarthy gives one of the most complex performances of her career as a gritty, struggling yarn-spinner. Her turmoil is palpable, if not relatable, making the subsequent decent into criminal practice is believable. Furthermore, McCarthy’s portrayal is marvelously balanced evoking both sympathy and revulsion. The nuances imbibed into Israel will give audiences a true sense of who she is as a person, and also her motivations. The questions of what drove this woman to forging, and how she was able to get away with it, are clearly answered to an extremely satisfying degree. The attention to detail in particular regarding the methods employed to help ensure the illusion of authenticity is especially fascinating to those interested in the art of the crime.
While Can You Ever Forgive Me? stands strong with its lead and plot, some audience members may feel an imbalance with the final product. While Israel is a fascinating character, and perhaps sympathetic, she is not inherently likable. Can You Ever Forgive Me? tries to slightly offset this with Grant’s Hock, who is at many times colorful, but ultimately brash and reckless. In addition, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is entirely told from Israel’s perspective. This limited view certainly intensifies the suspense as Israel’s paranoia of being caught grows and she continually finds new corners to escape from in her growing web lies. But from this solo vantage point, the film lacks a person to truly root for (such as the law enforcement entity trying to make a big score, typical in this genre) and that may rub some audience members the wrong way.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? proves that Melissa McCarthy is a talent with tremendous range and ability; her work in this film will likely garner her an Academy Award nomination. On the whole, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an introspective look into a niche criminal practice that combines a fantastic lead performance with a sharp script. Top the whole affair off with a pitch-perfect melancholy percussive score by Nate Heller, and you have one the best films of 2018.
Recommended if you enjoyed: The Good Thief, Inside Man, American Hustle, The Informant!
FINAL GRADE: A
Probable Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Actress in a Leading Role: Robert Redford
- Best Adapted Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty
Possible Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Film
- Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant
- Best Score: Nate Heller