Since receiving a cinema card as a Christmas gift, my attendance at the picture-house has skyrocketed. Yesterday, for the second consecutive evening I went to the cinema after work – having cunningly timed my departure to arrive in town at the precise time that the film was meant to start. For my viewing pleasure last night was the film ‘Can you ever forgive me?’
It is the true life tale of failed celebrity biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) who finds a lucrative new career in literary forgery. The year is 1991. Lee Israel’s last book – an unauthorised biography of Estee Lauder had flopped horribly. Plagued by writer’s block and alcoholism, her latest book – a biography of Fanny Brice – is going nowhere. Her agent advises her to find a new career, as nobody is interested in her work. Unable to pay her rent, or to afford treatment for her ailing cat, she is reduced to selling personal items – including a personal letter she had received from Katharine Hepburn. While at the library she finds a handwritten letter from Fanny Brice which she steals. Offered a paltry amount of money for this letter, because it lacked interesting content, Israel stumbles on a genius plan. To forge letters from famous writers, playwrights and film stars which contain more juicy and salacious content. Suddenly she is in demand, earning thousands of dollars from dedicated collectors.
When a forgery of a letter by Noel Coward raises suspicion because of the uncharacteristic manner in which ‘he’ discusses his sexuality, Israel is blacklisted by collectors. So she employs the services of her friend – fellow alcoholic and drug dealer Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) -to sell her forgeries (along with purloined original letters) on her behalf. In the course of her career she forged over 400 letters – some so convincing that they appeared as originals in biographies of the subjects.
The performances of McCarthy and Grant are sublime – despite playing bitter, nasty, dishonest people, their bleak circumstances and loneliness is moving and funny. Grant in particular is noteworthy – he is almost portraying the legendary character of Withnail once again – only this time thirty years older and truly defeated by life. You care for these characters despite their deep flaws. Both have rightly been nominated for Oscars for their performances. A film about the nature of loneliness and the desperate efforts and alliances people will make to stay afloat, it is recommended