Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) Poster

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Want to buy some illusions?
mukava99121 October 2018
The celebrity biographer Lee Israel was in her own way an expert spinner of "alternative facts" and "fake news" decades before both became commonplace in the digital age. Plenty of people who should have known better were willing to accept these "facts" and spread this "news."

Melissa McCarthy reaches an artistic career peak with her performance as the late writer who had been one of the top names in her field in the 70s and early 80s before cultural evolution (or devolution, depending on how you look at it) combined with her own abrasiveness and alcoholism led publishers to shun her work. McCarthy adapts her familiar techniques perfectly to this particular character.

With bills mounting, and facing loss of prestige and income, she began drinking heavily and sinking into a deep, almost psychotic, depression when, half by chance, she discovered that a lot of money could be made by selling letters from famous people like Katharine Hepburn and Fanny Brice. The juicier the content, the more cash they commanded. A talented and witty writer herself, she was familiar enough with the style of the such figures as Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker to forge imitations that convinced professional collectors of their authenticity. Quotes from some of her fakes even ended up in respectable publications. Eventually she resorted to doctoring correspondence which she stole from libraries and selling the results for high prices to sometimes shady dealers. Here was someone who loved and respected outstanding writers and their works but was driven by circumstance to, in effect, falsifying their legacies.

Some of the little touches that deepen our understanding of her character include a scene where she is watching the 1941 film version of "The Little Foxes" and starts delivering the dialogue along with the actors and even accurately imitating Bette Davis's distinctive giggle. Much of the time she is swilling scotch and her ever-so-slightly slurred speech reflects this half-inebriated state.

The movie is shot in New York, making use of locations that still look much as they did more than a quarter of a century ago, when the classic New York of the early-to-mid 20th century, an environment conducive to Israel's own earlier success, had mostly faded out. Julius, the bar where a few key scenes are set, existed then and still exists now. (A conversation therein about her illegal shenanigans is softly underscored by Marlene Dietrich's recording of "Illusions," Dietrich being the subject of one of Israel's Noel Coward forgeries.)

Most of the interiors (book stores, archives, Israel's funky apartment, her agent's more elegant and expansive one) are genuine.

McCarthy is strongly supported by Richard E. Grant in a showy, colorful performance as a fellow alcoholic and partner in crime, Stephen Spinella as a kind but increasingly suspicious rare book dealer, Brandon Scott Jones as a fussy book store clerk who, to his regret, rubs Israel the wrong way, Jane Curtin as her no-nonsense literary agent, Anna Deveare Smith as an old friend and numerous others.

"Can You Ever Forgive Me?", based on and named after Israel's slender autobiographical recap of this period, is a highly intelligent and detailed rendering of a complex human being, by turns endearing and repulsive, brilliant and stupid.
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8/10
Pure New York
jimmyjoe58326 January 2019
I didn't know what to expect with this film. I was very pleasantly surprised. This movie is not a comedy and the performers did a great job of capturing people who are not always made for this world. Melissa McCarthy gives a impressive performance as Lee Israel and Richard Grant is wonderful as her ne'er do well friend and accomplice. I really like the atmosphere and the ability to capture the grit and seediness of New York in the early 90's. Marielle Heller and McCarthy did a fantastic job of taking someone with all the likability of my mother in law and making her sympathetic.
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8/10
Thoughtful work from a comic actress
Lionesse209 September 2018
After the abysmal Ghostbusters remake and the endlessly panned Happytime Murders, true fans of McCarthy will be glad to see her redemption in this dramatic turn. McCarthy really shines in her role as author Lee Israel and effortlessly portrays the loneliness and insecurity of her character. Her rapport with Grant (and even with the cat) is wonderful, and the writing is clever. This was a surprising and delightful highlight at Telluride this year.
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9/10
A beautiful, nuanced film about loneliness, friendship and finding meaning in art.
leanne-9724 January 2019
This is a wonderful film with a fabulous, flawed heroine. At the same time funny, moving and insightful Melissa McCarthy gives a career defining performance in the lead role and Richard E. Grant is both hilarious and tragic in support. The fact that Marielle Heller and the film itself were not nominated for Oscars is a travesty...without question one of the best films of the year.
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7/10
Fascinating depiction of serial dishonesty
PotassiumMan10 November 2018
Melissa McCarthy is not known for her dramatic roles, but this film might change that. It's the gripping story of Lee Israel, a struggling Manhattan writer who in the early 1990s undertook the extraordinary step of falsifying letters from famous people to make ends meet.

McCarthy is an eye-opener here as the hard-drinking, acid-tongued Israel, a miserable middle-aged woman who sought friendship in precious few souls, one of them being a mysterious figure on the Upper West Side portrayed with fierce verve by Richard E. Grant, who winds up becoming something of an accomplice to her enterprise. She is desperate to pay her bills. His murky story becomes more known as the film progresses. The two of them are an odd couple, as they both have setbacks and misery to look back upon, but their pessimism and misanthrope are not equally shared.

This film will offer a glimpse of nostalgia for anyone who remembers New York in a now quaint era, when struggling writers still lived as adults in Manhattan, when life was endearingly bleak and bookstores were not yet massive chains. That sense of atmosphere I greatly admire. Recommended to anyone who enjoys a scathing story of literary scheming.
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10/10
Excellent
avenuesf29 October 2018
I started to give this film a "9" rating, but frankly couldn't find anything in it that I felt was less than exceptional. I had never heard of Lee Israel, and Melissa McCarthy's funny and often heartbreaking performance in this film has made me want to read her book that inspired this film and learn more about her. The screenplay has a wonderful way of portraying Israel and Jack Hock as criminals, but at the same time making them both very human and very vulnerable, each in their own way. There is a scene between them near the end that tore me up. I hope this film finds the accolades it deserves, it's great to finally see a gem in a year of remakes, CGI and dull comedies.
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8/10
Nothing To Forgive
jasongkgreen20 January 2019
A great story, which made me sigh and left me warm. Richard E Grant was superb, doing the Richard he does do well, his eyes overflowing with feeling at times. Melissa embodied and created her character equally. Superb.

Some cracking quotes such as: Lounge Singer: This next song goes out to all the agoraphobic junkies who couldn't be here tonight.

I had laughs, sighs, a gasp or two and a cracking story. Fully entertained, I loved it.

8/10
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8/10
Write or Wrong
jadepietro14 November 2018
GRADE: B

THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: Two great performances enhance a true tale about breaking the law.

JIM'S REVIEW: Lee Israel is a down-on-her-luck misanthropic writer who admittingly "likes cats more than people" and drink excessively. No one is interested in her novels, no one cares about her either. She is a sad lonely woman who isolates herself from the world and the world seems to prefer it that way too. Forced to survive, Lee decides that becoming a literary forger, complete with dead celebrity signatures, may actually be a more profitable vocation. Played with total honesty and conviction by Melissa McCartney, she becomes a most compelling character of worth in this fact-based biography, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Solidly directed by Marielle Heller and with a literate screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty that captures the 90's sensibilities very well, the film spends a great deal of time establishing Lee's self-enforced exile from the human race and her get-rich scheme. The storytelling becomes a tad monotonous and is more leisurely paced than necessary. But the true life story of an author unable to cope with the harsh realities of life is always a fascinating subject.

And Ms. McCartney is a wonder, showing the full gamut of emotion. She restrains her great comic prowess and exchanges it for genuine pathos and vulnerability. Never allowing her character to become overly sympathetic or too much a victim, Ms. McCartney makes Lee a pathetic yet shrewd criminal. Abetting Lee is her partner-in-crime, a flamboyantly gay Jack Hoch. Richard E. Grant is superb as her only friend and carefree accomplice. These two misfits become a wonderful tag team and bring much nuance to their well written roles. They are both deserving of award consideration. Fine support also comes from its strong cast which includes Dolly Wells, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavera Smith, and Jane Curtain as Lee's frustrated agent.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a nicely honed character study that provides an acting showcase for the talented Ms. M. who hopefully will have more dramatic opportunities in her future cinematic ventures.
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8/10
Really Good Work
varun-2507199724 January 2019
A very crisply edited biography drama about an author and her crooked friend committing forgery for profit. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant were brilliant the latter deserves all awards for his performance.
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9/10
Forgiven
normadesmond-114 January 2019
I bought Israel's, Kilgallen back in the 70s. One of the best books I'd ever read. The book's subject was compelling & Lee's writing sublime. Of course I then sought out her Bankhead book & enjoyed that too. I also ran out & purchased the Lauder book. This one seemed, unnecessary. Should've been a lengthy article. I then spent years searching for new work. Could never understand why a great writer wasn't writing. Of course, I then found CYEFM. I'm just thrilled that she's been immortalized in film. Also love that many of "her" letters are out there.
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8/10
A very different but excellent film
coombsstephen20 January 2019
This is a very different story as it for once gives a true life crime story of someone falling into crime to pay the bills and seeing if from their angle without dressing it up or looking for empathy and sympathy for the perpetrator. It is not embellished too much to make it overly dramatic as Hollywood too often does, which I think makes the film, it is a quite ordinary but great tale.

Mellisa McCarthy and Richard E Grant are both superb in their roles. McCarthy makes you believe the character was written just for her and Grant plays an excellent British eccentric, again a role that you almost feel no one else could have played.

One of the best films of 2019 so far for me.
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6/10
A Low-key Comic Drama That Showcases Melissa McCarthy's Talent
roblesar9921 September 2018
Going into CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? I had rather low expectations. As I walked out of the theater, I was impressed by the fact that director Marielle Heller and actress Melissa McCarthy (who last starred in the disastrous THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS) had managed to make me care about a film focused on subject matter that I found rather uninteresting to begin with. The concept at the heart of this film will certainly appeal to some, but unfortunately for me, it was the one thing actively working against the film from the get-go. And indeed, during the film's rather dull first ten minutes, I feared that I would be bored for the next hour and a half. Thankfully, however, the introduction of Richard E. Grant's character immediately elevated the film, and his dynamic with McCarthy's Lee Israel (an author who forged hundreds of letters in the 1990s) is undoubtedly the highlight of the film, providing hearty laughs and emotional depth in equal measure. And McCarthy herself proves more than capable of handling a meaty dramatic role that aptly showcases her talent and makes one wish that she didn't star in such films as the aforementioned HAPPYTIME MURDERS. To all the filmmakers out there: McCarthy has talent. Use it.

I might not have been very invested in the film's story, but McCarthy and Grant (who should definitely be in the running for a Best Supporting Actor nomination next year) certainly make CAN YOU EVERY FORGIVE ME? worth watching.
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Strong performances buoy true story
gortx30 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

This fact-based story of biography author Lee Israel's fall into a life of forgery is a fascinating one. Marielle Heller's movie (based largely on Israel's own account) takes a subdued approach. Set in the early 90s, the movie is an almost bucolic version of New York City with warm digital photography by Brandon Trost, and, largely, a retro soundtrack full of Cole Porter, Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington tunes. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty's script similarly tries to warm up the often prickly Israel (played by Melissa McCarthy).

Despite some success in the past with Biographies of Dorthy Kilgallen and others, Israel's career is in a downward spiral after her flop book on Estee Lauder (the makeup tycoon rushed her own tome out to crush Israel's). Further, Israel's personality is so caustic that she literally has become the crotchety old cat lady - unemployable and unlovable. Fate intervenes when, while researching a future book, Israel stumbles upon authentic letters by well know writers and personalities. She steals them and sells them to collector's. On the personal front, she meets up with a gay habitue of the scene, Jack (Richard E. Grant). Together, they strike up an odd relationship based as much on mutual misery (and drinking) as any real affection. Once Israel discovers that she can pay her bills by selling purloined letters, she sets up an even larger scheme - outright forgery (the amount of outright thievery of legit letters is downplayed).

The screenplay lays things out in a neat and orderly manner, even if none of it really gains any momentum. Heller's direction is fine, if unfussy, but makes some curious choices later in the movie with jarring music choices, including a tune by the hard-rocking The Pixies. Great band, but, those more modern sounds seem to come from nowhere stylistically wise (everything else in the movie remains as subdued as before).

What keeps the movie flowing are the performances. McCarthy has been justly lauded for her sympathetic acting, if a bit too much (some have fallen into the trap of over-praising a "comedian playing straight"; haven't these folks seen here fine work in ST.VINCENT just a couple of years back?). While you can sometimes see the seams in McCarthy's performance, Grant glides with ease. While both individuals are clearly gay, only Grant's Jack gets to be overtly so. I guess it's more 'enjoyable' to the arthouse crowd to watch his flamboyance as opposed to Israel's dowdy repression. Dolly Wells is excellent as a mousy bookseller.

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? tells its basic tale well, even if its a bit too orderly (ironic, because one of the critiques of Israel's own writing was that it lacked personality), but McCarthy and Grant make it worthwhile.
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7/10
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
rockman18221 October 2018
I usually don't end up liking Melissa McCarthy films. She is usually in comedies directed by her husband that aren't funny and have nothing good going for it. I was intrigued in seeing her take on a more serious role and one based on an actual biographical person than a made up "funny" person. I never heard of Lee Israel or the case of her forgery and all the stuff she got away with so I wanted to learn more about this. I enjoyed this film. Its not anything that's gonna stick out when the year ends but for a one time watch its fine, and I can finally say I enjoyed a McCarthy performance quite a bit.

The film is about the real life story of down out of luck biographical author, Lee Israel. Her books aren't doing well and she finds it hard to find inspiration. She can't afford rent or veterinarian care for her sick cat. She decides to forge letters signed and typed up by famous entertainment personalities. At first she finds the scam to be lucrative but eventually the buyers become suspicious and the FBI get involved. The film basically tells the tale of her forgery, until she gets caught, and the aftermath.

McCarthy does a good job here. She doesn't completely disappear into the role but its a believable performance that showcases her best qualities. The film is proficient in mixing comedy with humor and brings forth a rather intriguing plot in a way that keeps you engaged. I already liked Marielle Heller as The Diary of a Teenage Girl was a really interesting and well made film as it was. I think she finds a penchant for storytelling that mixes humor and drama well.

Its easy to see why something like this would have been easy to get away with in an earlier time. Its an idea people wouldn't easily think of. Crime doesn't pay, after a while anyways. If you want to see a solid biopic and an even more solid Melissa McCarthy performance then this is your film. its not anything amazing but its a generally interesting tale about a shady author that you may not have known about.

7/10
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7/10
Struggling Outcasts Turn to Sophisticated Crime in Can You Ever Forgive Me
BlueFox947 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
(Originally published on the Impacting Culture blog)

"I'll have you know, I'm a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker!" - Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) to Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant)

Potential spoilers below

Money - or, more specifically, the lack of it - tends to twist the lives of many. It is common to observe this phenomenon among the impoverished. It also fascinates to observe this in those who have tasted fame and yearn to relish it once more. One such example is Lee Israel, who passed away in 2014 after having profiled the lives of female celebrities during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Notoriety, however, does not reside with the late Ms. Israel for her death, nor for the legitimate early prime of her adult career. Instead, Ms. Israel made her name in the early 1990s forging more than 400 correspondences from deceased writers, playwrights, and actors.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?, directed by Marielle Heller from a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (adapting Israel's 2008 confessional autobiography), covers that 1991-92 criminal adventure of Israel's life. This stew of biographical drama and tragedy, sprinkled with comedic touches, a detached toleration of same-sex romantic flings, and an indifferent view on Ms. Israel's actions will not satisfy everyone. Those intrigued will find, under the no-nonsense direction of Ms. Heller, worthwhile and steady performances by a modest Melissa McCarthy and a lively Richard E. Grant.

In our modern age with a show like the History channel's Pawn Stars firmly in the "meme" stage, it is easy to forget the recent necessity for authentication with regards to collector's items. Offering a peek at that transition and one key incident that facilitated it serves as perhaps the sneakiest asset of Can You Ever Forgive Me? Holofcener and Whitty further highlight it by having McCarthy and Grant question even the authority of authenticators, leading to one of cinema in 2018's more humorous finales. That said, the forging montages make Israel's newfound career path appear far easier than it did. It would have helped if the filmmakers had dwelled a bit more on the complex science and routine of Israel's forgery that not only sparked her writing talents, but also helped her evade the authorities for as long as she did.

At its inception, the makers behind Can You Ever Forgive Me? had hoped to cast Julianne Moore and Chris O'Dowd as Lee Israel and (likely) Jack Hock, respectively. Such choices might have worked to get the film greenlit, but McCarthy and Grant come off as the more natural fits for the characters. As with 2015's Spy, Melissa McCarthy tempers her improvisational vulgar rambling. She paints Lee Israel as a writer who has tasted fame yet whose intolerable attitude has driven away further success, female companions, and people in general. Her appearance here almost makes me forget that she starred just months earlier in the horrendous Life of the Party and The Happytime Murders. (Side note: The Happytime Murders wishes it were Peter Jackson's 1989 black comedy Meet the Feebles.) Meanwhile, I prefer Richard E. Grant in roles like Jack Hock, a chipper yet aging, drug-dealing gay prostitute-for-lodging and perhaps Lee's only friend, rather than as bland villains like Dr. Zander Rice in last year's Logan. Both McCarthy and Grant's turns have popped up in recent Oscar conversations and they would serve as welcome nominees for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor awards, respectively. I will admit, though, that I will not miss them should they fall short of making the cut.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? will go down as yet another quiet gem from cinema in 2018. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant have lent their talents well in providing the definitive dramatization of this odd episode in recent literary world history. If for nothing else, audiences should take to heart the lessons of this curious episode - to exercise caution in how they obtain their means of living and that crime, however adventurous it can get, never truly pays.

(Parental Note: Can You Ever Forgive Me? has been rated R by the MPAA "for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use". It has also been rated 15 by the BBFC for "very strong language" and "drug misuse".)

R.N.B.
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8/10
A quirky story that needed to be told.
katiefanatic-791-30691815 October 2018
I saw this film at the San Diego film festival this weekend. What a wonderful story that needed to be told. Morality aside, lee Israel was a genius. The only crimes were committed by the people who fell for it. A quirky black comedy everyone will enjoy, but still full of emotion and heart. Not a lot more I can say, just a great film.
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9/10
At last a worthy platform to showcase Melissa McCarthy's acting abilities!
onceshy10 November 2018
I absolutely loved Melissa McCarthy's portrayal of Lee Israel, and have been so looking forward to seeing her in such a role. As much as I have laughed till it hurts watching her previous roles in movies, I felt much of her talents had not been tapped in those earlier films. She gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this movie, and enables viewers to sympathize with the flawed character she portrays. And I hate to admit, but I was not familiar with the work of her co-star Richard E. Grant until now, but the masterful way that Melissa and Richard brought to life the unique friendship of Lee and Jack was very enjoyable to watch. Richard's performance of Jack was likewise noteworthy and fabulous. I would love to see Melissa in many more great roles. She is one of the most talented, versatile comedic, and now dramatic, actresses today. It is a shame, however, that I had to hunt to find a theater where this movie was even playing, and it's only in limited viewings, for some reason. I just hope that enough audience is given the opportunity to see this film. Melissa is the kind of actress who gives 150 percent of herself to whatever role she takes on, and this is what makes her a delight to watch!
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8/10
Sordid but pretty Damed Fabulous film
tm-sheehan17 January 2019
When The New York Post reviewed Lee Israels novel Can You Ever Forgive Me in 2008 they wrote "she's written a slender, sordid and pretty damned fabulous book about her misadventures." and this very good movie,based on the real life criminal adventures of a lonely ,alcohol sodden , bad tempered lesbian author and a Gay homeless man with terminal AIDS who befriend each other is just that sordid in parts but pretty dammed fabulous. It's witty ,intelligent and captures beautifully the 1990's seedy ambience of life in New York with humour, sadness and the connection of an unlikely pair of 2 lost souls. Terrific performances from Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, I've only seen her in her rom com movie roles and this is probably a career defining performance also Richard E Grant as her seedy sidekick Jack Hock gives a terrific performance and the chemistry of these 2 fine actors is worth seeing this movie,they really are great together. In a way you empathise with the main character who ingeniously devises a way to make crime pay to pay her rent ,buy her alcohol and pay her vet to try and save her beloved cat after being fired for her drunk behaviour as she is told by her literary agent that her writing career is over. I love great character development and good scriptwriting and direction and Marielle Heller and the entire production team on this film have done a fine job.
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9/10
McCarthy & Grant Are Perfectly Cast
dzlcomedy15 December 2018
While she's known for playing wacky characters, Melissa McCarthy is at her best when she's playing the downtrodden normal woman thrown into a crazy situation. (See "Spy".) "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" further illustrates the point. But it's Richard E. Grant who steals the show as the charming Jack, and the duo plays off each other perfectly. A fascinating story told with humor and heart, this is an excellent film that doesn't try to be too political or preachy.
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8/10
A thoughtful, refreshing comedic drama with a stellar central performance
joelbrandt27 October 2018
Stellar performances and strong writing/direction present a refreshing blend of subtly unique outsider characters (Lee and Jack have great chemistry-just wish there was another dialogue with Anna), fringe city settings (dilapidated apartments, smoky bars, dusty bookstores), and-with equal parts humour and tragedy-themes of loneliness, poverty, and the search for happiness (see Lee enjoying the music at the pub). The courtroom climax is a bit contrived, but the bar reunion afterwards is perfect.
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8/10
Subtle yet effective
jg_197723 November 2018
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a heartbreaking, bitingly funny, and all around terrific film. Although no aspect of this movie is subpar, the two elements that stood out to me upon leaving the theater were the screenplay and two lead performances. Screenwriters Nicole Holofcener andJeff Whitty blend the tones of melancholy and levity brilliantly, reminding me quite of bit of Woody Allen's work. The story they tell is subtle and gradual, letting us get acquainted with the characters before unfolding the plot. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a true dramedy, where the witty dialogue will have you laughing out loud, but the tragedy of Lee Israel's daily life will cut you to your core. This film's strong writing is also elevated by two of the best performances of the year, from Melissa McCarthy leading and Richard E. Grant supporting. In the hands of McCarthy an Grant, the characters of Lee Israel and Jack are given both emotional depth and charm, with some absolutely delicious chemistry between the two. Additionally, director Marielle Heller deserves praise for the pacing and tone of the film, as both are spot on with the story she is trying to tell. It seems she was also keen enough to know that with two terrific actors, she could tend towards subtlety and let their performances guide the story. The only criticism I can make is that the third act is rather devoid of tension. As Israel's life upends you'd expect to be gripped with suspense and anticipation, but what we got was more of the same leisure and melancholy tone. Overall, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one of my favorite films of the year so far, and definitely worth a watch.
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8/10
See this film for amazing performances!
rhmacl5 November 2018
Richard E. Grant for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor! He made this good film better, and with amazing physical acting, and by inserting a huge dose of humanity. Melissa McCarthy is always high quality and an eternally underappreciated Jane Curtain seals the package.

I found the film very engrossing and it kept my attention. I did NOT walk out of the theater cheering, or weeping, but truly satisfied that I got to witness an extraordinary work of art. And, I learned a lot about 20th century literature.
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10/10
Expert On Every Level
debsw3514 January 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed every part of this film. I see from some of the reviews that thoughtful character inspired pieces that are not Marvel Superhero movies may not be that popular. The "dumbing down" of America...... Expertly acted and written, incredible performance from Melissa McCarthy whom I had heretofore only known as a comedienne. Richard E. Grant was amazing, nuanced.... Impeccable sets and lighting really lent to the somewhat "dark" subject matter. I can't recommend it highly enough......
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8/10
McCarthy should continue with serious roles as her portrait of a curmudgeon literary forger proves illuminating
Turfseer19 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
First and foremost, go see this film for Melissa McCarthy's performance. My initial reaction was "finally." Could it be the end of all of her prior dopey performances in lame comedies? Here she's taken on a serious role based on a memoir of the same name by the late Lee Israel. Israel was for a relatively short time a successful author of biographies including such luminaries as Katherine Hepburn and Tallulah Bankhead until flaming out on an unsuccessful one about Estée Lauder. By the early 90s Israel was broke and was unable to pay the rent on her west side apartment in Manhattan.

The "fun" begins when Israel decides to begin forging letters of famous literary lights beginning with Dorothy Parker. McCarthy plays Israel the way she was: a ballsy curmudgeon whose amoral behavior proves quite entertaining. She's joined by Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock, a gay ne'er-do-well who ends up assisting Israel in her nefarious activities (don't be surprised if Grant wins an Oscar for best supporting actor!).

The plot follows Israel as she first cons a young bookshop employee, Anna, who's convinced that Israel's literary forgeries are real. Israel ends up rebuffing Anna's romantic overtures. The tension heightens when Israel is blacklisted after one of her Noel Coward forgeries is questioned as a fake. This is where Hock is conscripted to sell Israel's letters.

The narrative might have petered out but a few more plot twists keep things hurtling to the inevitable climax. Israel and Hock have a falling out after Israel's cat dies while Hock is cat sitting at the apartment. Israel reverts to stealing original letters at research libraries and finally is arrested by the FBI.

It's kind of refreshing to have a film where the gay characters aren't all noble (a sub-plot involves Israel and a former lesbian lover having a potential reconciliation talk that goes nowhere). More problematic is that Israel's proclivities are held up as entertainment-one shouldn't forget that what she did was criminal in nature. Nonetheless, one of the themes here is forgiveness as Israel does express remorse at her sentencing in a Federal court. Notably she still expresses pride that people actually believed her letters were real, but ultimately recognized that others were hurt by her activities.

McCarthy's performance is quite good precisely because you want to see how far she takes her character down the path of perdition. Director Marielle Heller ultimately is correct in convincing us that Israel, despite her base proclivities, provided an in-depth social critique: and that of course is people will believe anything, with dollar signs before their eyes!
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9/10
Melissa can do drama
redmondgarmony10 December 2018
A real 'only in New York' story, even includes bread from Zabars. Not necessary to see on big screen (even tho I did), but if you love comedic literature, it's a couple of hours of pure pleasure. Two leads have sparkling chemistry and minor characters are also well written and acted.
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