A film based on a true story: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
List Progress: 7/12 (+6)
Being a professional writer is hard. Being an older woman is hard. These are both things that the late Lee Israel knew well. In 1992, the down-and-out biographer, struggling to get her next project off the ground and short on friends due to alcoholism and a caustic personality, turned to literary forgery. She would forge letters from dead celebrities such as Noel Coward, Fanny Brice, Marlene Dietrich, and many more, and sell them to collectors for hundreds of dollars each. The title of her memoir, Can Your Ever Forgive Me?, is from a line in one of her forged Dorothy Parker letters, and an example of how she was able to delve so much into different writers’ voices that even years after she was caught, her forgeries still made it into professional and academic collections. I was not familiar with Lee Israel before watching this 2018 biopic and adaptation of her memoir, but I am very glad I took the chance on it. Can You Ever Forgive Me? Is a lovely, contemplative meditation on friendship, truth, popularity, and the masks we put on to get by.
Starring Melissa McCarthy as Israel, the film meets Lee near rock-bottom, after being fired from her job and with her agent unwilling to take another gamble on her unpopular subject matter. Hard-edged and unwilling to open up to anyone, Lee stumbles into both her crimes and her friendship with fellow mess-of-a-person Jack Hock, played by Richard E. Grant. Both lead performances are great, touching and vulnerable even as they’re lashing out at every person and structure around them, and their friendship grounds the film. And for a mainstream movie, it was really refreshing to see characters who were unapologetically messy, unapologetically old, and unapologetically queer. The bar is so incredibly low, but Can You Ever Forgive Me? flies above it with aplomb.
This is a grounded and small-scale story, tied up with a minor writer pulling a scam against collectors of niche memorabilia, but you end up fully invested in everything that happens to Lee and Jack. The ad campaign for this movie did it no favors, making it look dry and dull, but McCarthy’s Lee refuses to disappear, even when the world clearly wants her to.
Would I Recommend It: Emphatically yes.