Can You Ever Forgive Me, directed by Marielle Heller, with its morose, nihilistic view, there’s a wit and a charm… and even the tiniest little hint of heart, offers an experience that speaks to you and in its own unique way, endears you to its characters. So, let’s explore all of those qualities and more in my review and see if this is a film you might want to see.
Based on a true story, the film follows Lee Israel as she comes to terms with the fact that her career as a writer might have come to an end, so she turns her skill to producing fake letters of famous literary figures and selling them to collectors for extensive sums of cash. It may not be morally right – and it’s of course illegal – but it might be the one thing that pulls Lee Israel back from the edge.
One thing I know for sure about, Can You Ever Forgive Me, is that this film won’t be for everyone. This is a film that fully dedicates itself to the life and tone of Lee Israel. There’s very little joy in this film. It often drags its feet through the life of a person who was not happy, and who seemed to go out of her way to make other people unhappy. It also doesn’t paint a very positive picture of humanity in general; with both the people of New York seemingly all being unpleasant and rude, and also Lee herself being quite an unlikeable person at times, whose actions are morally unjustifiable. So this morose, dower picture of the world – a picture that takes its time to be fully realised, meaning the pace of the film is often slow – is one I can see turning some audience members away.
But for me, this film’s commitment to the life of Lee Israel and its commitment to not try to spin her life into something ultimately uplifting was one of the reasons why I found myself enamoured with the experience of this film.
The other reason that pulled me into this film and had me feeling more and more connected to it was that I found myself able to connect and sympathise with some of the struggles of Lee. I’m not at any point trying to compare myself to the talent or career of Lee Israel. But as someone who is passionate about writing and who one day hopes to have even the tiniest bit of success with it; I found myself easily able to empathise with someone who felt she was no longer able to pursue the thing she felt she was best at. And subsequently the person that moulded her into, is scarily similar to aspects I recognise in myself.
That personal connection for me, was what made it so effective for me. I understood (in my own minor, insignificant way) Lee’s struggles and I saw traits within her that I related to and I sometimes saw coming from me. That was a strong connection… so strong in fact, that after seeing the film, it caused me to go into a bit of a mental spiral (whiskey was involved). I never expected that going in, Can You Ever Forgive Me. In all honesty, I went to see this film because of my curiosity for McCarthy’s performance, as she is an actress who up until this point, I haven’t been able to stand. Her, “comedies” are movies I actively dislike and I’m yet to see one that was funny.
But in this film, McCarthy disappears, and in her place is Lee Israel. What I found great about the handling of Lee, was that there was a commitment to portraying her as she was. And because of the, Lee is someone who at times feels like she’s a shadow on the wall; she disappears into the background… until her fury is unleashed, and she takes over the room and expels all manner of insults and put-downs. It’s in these two aspects of Lee that McCarthy finds an excellent balance and shines as her. There are no tragically unfunny pratfalls or desperate attempts at improv comedy. There’s an actress embodying the role of someone brilliantly, and from it coming a story that was emotionally resonant and morally challenging. It’s work like this that I hope to see from McCarthy going forward!
And I would be remised if I didn’t drop in a little love for Richard E. Grant who steals a number of scenes with delicious abandon. You really get the sense he’s having fun with every line of dialogue he had and was never afraid to chew up the scenery in his own wonderfully indulgent way. A joy to watch!
Can You Ever Forgive Me was a film I walked into with very little enthusiasm. A I mentioned, I was primarily seeing it because of my curiosity concerning McCarthy. But not only did it deliver an experience I never tiered of watching, but it also delivered an experience that made an impact on me afterwards. Was it an impact that resulted in the best of mindsets? Maybe not, but how boring would cinema be if it only ever left you feeling fulfilled and without a worry in the world. I like when a film leaves a mark, and this one certainly did.
I will be recommending, Can You Ever Forgive Me? I do want to stress that this film won’t be for everyone. But for those that are interested in it and see something within it that they think might appeal to them, then please consider going and experiencing this film.
Sound off in the comments with what you thought of, Can You Ever Forgive Me? I’d love to know what you thought. If you enjoyed my ramblings, then I’ve exciting news! I’ve started my own movie based podcast; ‘The Meandering Movie Podcast’ with one of my good friends, and we’d really appreciate it if you’d consider giving it a listen. So head over to either iTunes (https://apple.co/2FUkAhU ) or Soundcloud (https://bit.ly/2S4sMm6 ) and supporting this new venture. You can find out much more on the Twitters – @MeanderingPod & @GavinsRamblings. All that’s left to say is thank you and have a wonderful day!