In my youth, I tried my hand at forging. Well, I use to write sick notes to get myself out borstal holding pen masquerading as a school I went to. I harboured romantic notions that I would never again be forced to do something for I would present a note claiming that I didn’t need to. The first time I did it, they caught me. And as punishment was forced to stay there longer each day for two weeks. They were a surprisingly bright breed, my teachers. I think the problem is that I’m diagnosed with severe dyslexia. Hard to disguise my handwriting that looks naturally like Morbid Angel’s logo, and I put two V’s in Thursday.
But watching Can you ever Forgive Me?, based on Lee Israel memoirs, has reminded me of that ill-fated attempt to become a forger.
It’s 1991 and in New York burned out, hard drinking and cat-loving writer Israel (Melissa McCarthy) insults the wrong person and losses her job at the New Yorker. With her last book on Estée Lauder a critical and commercial failure, Israel’s agent won’t secure her an advance on her next book. Lacking money for rent, food and with a sick cat, Israel sells her letter from Katherine Hepburn to book deal Anne (Dolly Wells) and restarts an old drinking friendship with openly gay drug dealer Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Things change while researching her book on vaudevillian Fanny Brice. Israel discovers two letters and, after adding a playful postscript, sells them to Anne for $200. Israel begins forging letters from writers such as Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker, and with Hock’s help, sells them to collectors for hundreds of dollars at a time. So it’s only a matter of time before people start asking questions and things take a turn for the worst.
After watching this, I going to say it, McCarthy and Grant should have walked away with those Oscars. I’m sorry, but they should have one. It took me a second to realise I was looking at McCarthy on the screen. She plays Israel with a sardonic melancholy rather than a sassiness. Forging the letters takers her out of her self-imposed exile into the world again but it’s all tempered with the knowledge that, despite being her words, they’re someone else’s voice, that she can never claim the witticism or lifestyle she’s put to paper. No matter how much money she knows that she is little more than a ghost-writer trying to get by. Grant’s Hock, meanwhile, is a charming alcoholic dandy, living a bohemian lifestyle that he can’t afford, balancing out McCarthy’s pessimistic Israel. I was annoyed when people started comparing Hock with Grant’s earlier alcoholic dandy Withnail, assuming people were implying that Grant could only play one type of character. It was only after watching it that I got what they were on about. Both are perfect foils for the main character, each with their growth rather than 2D characteristics.
Shot with contrasting crisp blue/whites and soft, warm amber lighting and mellow pacing fill the film with a bitter sweetness needed for the story. Very little is rushed, which is good; this is not the type of film that needs fast editing nor shaky cam. There is an emptiness to many of the shots, even in bustling New York as Israel is filmed in long shots by herself for much of the time. We only get close while she is writing or with Hock. Even the burgeoning romance between Israel and Anne is filmed to make them seem smaller on the screen that they should be.
The disk comes Deleted Scenes, promotional featurettes, trailers and audio commentary from director Marielle Heller and McCarthy.
2018 did produce some of the best films of the last ten years and Forgive me is a stand out among them.
Dir: Marielle Heller
Scr: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells
Prd: Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell
DOP: Brandon Trost
Music: Nate Heller
Runtime: 107 minutes
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is available on DVD and VOD now.