Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Subtitled) (15)
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Starring: Richard E Grant, Jane Curtin, Dolly Wells, Melissa McCarthy
Director: Marielle Heller
Writer(s): Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland
Lee Israel is three months behind on the rent for the apartment she shares with her beloved cat Jersey. Unable to pay for groceries, Lee sells one of her prized possessions - a framed letter from actress Katharine Hepburn - to local bookseller Anna for 175 dollars. The voracious appetite for literary memorabilia sows the seed of an outrageous idea: Lee can use her knowledge of famous writers to forge typewritten and signed correspondence from various literary wags.
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LondonNet Film Review
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (15)
What's in a name? A tidy profit if you're a professional autograph hunter who waits patiently at stage doors or along film premiere red carpets, gathering celebrity signatures which can be sold to collectors with a certificate of authenticity. Based on the book by Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a comedy drama set in early 1990s New York City about one enterprising forger who dug herself out of a deep financial hole by inventing signed correspondence from the likes of Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and Tennessee Williams...
Collectors were willing to pay top dollar for letters containing personal titbits and Israel exploited this market in collectable literary artefacts for personal gain. Director Marielle Heller's picture dramatises the criminal enterprise with warmth and wit, based on a script co-written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty which provides the Oscar-nominated leads with a feast of glittering one-liners. Melissa McCarthy milks sympathy for her self-absorbed misanthrope, who boasts "I can't get caught. Fools get caught," thereby ensuring her downfall when the FBI rumbles her scam. Richard E Grant harks back to his glory days in Withnail And I to portray a foul-mouthed gay lush who lives from day to day on charm and street smarts, and acts as a fence for the letters.
When we meet Lee (McCarthy), she is about to be fired from her latest dead-end job for unruly conduct. Lee is three months behind on the rent for the apartment she shares with her beloved cat Jersey, and her most recent biography, Estee Lauder: Behind The Magic, is being heavily discounted to shift unsold copies. Unable to pay for groceries, Lee sells one of her prized possessions - a framed letter from actress Katharine Hepburn - to local bookseller Anna for 175 dollars. The voracious appetite for literary memorabilia sows the seed of an outrageous idea: Lee can use her knowledge of famous writers to forge typewritten and signed correspondence from various literary wags. She foolishly enlists the help of a boozy accomplice, Jack Hock (Grant), a self-confessed renegade and rebel who has been banned from several local bookshops. "I have a little shoplifting problem," he confides with a twinkle in his eye.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? pivots deliciously on the fractious relationship between Lee and Jack. In scenes of verbal sparring, Grant and McCarthy light up the screen, the latter delivering the most compelling and layered dramatic performance of her career. There is also an eye-catching supporting role for Jane Curtin as Lee's glamorous literary agent, who drily informs her client: "Nobody needs a new biography on Fanny Brice, Lee." We certainly needed this darkly humorous account of Lee's unlikely rise and fall, and director Heller delivers her final draft with a flourish.
- Jo Planter
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