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Can You Ever Forgive Me? - DVD Review

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

MELISSA MCarthy and Richard E Grant grabbed the headlines and the award nominations for their richly enjoyable double act in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a small scale film that delivers big rewards.

Inspired by the literary memoir Memoirs of a Literary Forger by the real-life Lee Israel, this masquerades as a real-life crime drama about artistic forgery but is really about the people and the feelings that made it possible.

Set in New York in 1991, the film primarily focuses on failing biographer Israel (McCarthy), whose hatred of people and acerbic wit mean she’s near broke with a sick cat and potential homelessness to resolve.

When she sells a letter by US comedienne Fanny Brice to get some cash, she is told that the letter would have been worth a lot more if it was ‘juicier’, which inspires her to become a forger capable of embellishing and sometimes just plain making things up from notable literary greats such as Noel Coward.

Yet while she reaps big financial rewards, the authorities begin to get suspicious, prompting her to enlist the help of a fellow drinking buddy, Jack Hock (Grant) to further her gains. Indeed, such is the ‘pride’ that Israel gets from composing her letters, she is eventually forced to declare: “I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker!”

But it’s only a matter of time before greed and – to a lesser degree – ineptitude get the better of both of them.

Taken at face value, Marielle Heller’s film – her follow-up to the similarly well received The Diary of a Teenage Girl – is an amusing caper about a clever crime committed within the literary world, where money and ego dictate many purchases. On that level alone, it’s hugely enjoyable and fairly light-hearted.

But beneath the façade is a tragic tale of overcoming loneliness and enhancing self-worth – two ideals that prove continually elusive to its main protagonists.

Hence, while both Israel and Hock live by their often wicked wit, there is a sense of despair attached to their actions and their comments. They are broken people fumbling around for some sense of validation, yet continually sabotaging themselves in the process.

And therein lies the depth of the performances – and the reason why so many people [and awards bodies] were raving about them. McCarthy, especially, is great, tapping into her early background in dramatic theatre with astonishing results. She never tries to be overly sympathetic, or even likeable. Yet, crucially, you understand her, even when not liking her.

Indeed, one of the final lines of the movie, deliciously delivered in part-comic, part-serious putdown by Grant, sums her up completely! It’s a doozy.

But Grant is excellent, too. It’s not a disservice to suggest it riffs on his Withnail & I persona, but there’s a sorrow attached that’s often painful to behold, particularly late on where his scenes with McCarthy are also quite poignant.

Of note, too, is Dolly Wells, as a similarly lonely bookshop owner named Anna, whose early interplay with McCarthy, as she tries to extend the hand of friendship and possibly more, is genuinely heart-breaking and so very well played.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is therefore a film that works on several levels. It’s enjoyable, insightful and supremely well performed. The accolades are richly deserved.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 47mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 3, 2019