Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a very charming, melancholy tale that explores the idea of self worth as it applies to a middle aged writer. There are few great films about writing; its hard to get a good grasp on the details of the creative process, and more so than that its difficult to explore the relationship an author has with their work. Can You Ever Forgive Me? gets past those issues with its detailed depiction of rejection, craft, and desire to be heard, and director Marielle Heller crafts a charming, storybook-like film featuring two delightful performances.
Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a broke middle-aged writer who’s unable to sell her work, but finds a new source of income by forging literary letters from prominent writers with the help of her eccentric friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). This is the best performance of McCarthy’s career; on the surface, this seems like a bitter, volatile character, but as the film goes on we see the layers of someone who’s so desperate to be heard and thought she would be so much more than she is. To match her is a brilliant performance by Richard E. Grant, who’s eccentric personality lights up the screen whenever he’s onscreen with his wonderful expressions and body language. It’s not just the dialogue, but the instant chemistry between the two; here are two people who the world doesn’t seem to understand, but when paired their misadventures and conversations feel like something lifted from a great novel.
The film does a great job at exploring the detailed process of crafting forgeries, but more so than that, it explores the efforts Israel put into her work; writing is hard, but writing for someone is even harder. It’s often a funny film, but its funny because the characters interact in a way that feels natural, and you’re rooting for them to succeed. It’s a delightful film, and while its often a sad story, our characters’ misery is often rooted in the fact that people don’t appreciate them- thankfully, as an audience, we do. Grade: B+