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Movie Review: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, and Jane Curtin Bring the Literary Forgery Biopic ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ to Deliciously Caustic Life

CREDIT: Mary Cybulski/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone

Director: Marielle Heller

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Naughty, Foul-Mouthed Witticisms

Release Date: October 19, 2018 (Limited)

I would like to begin my review of Can You Ever Forgive Me? by first saying how happy I am to see Jane Curtin on screen in a role worthy of her talents. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are going to get the most praise out of this cast, and rightly so, as they play the two main characters with wonderfully caustic aplomb, but I want to make sure that Ms. Curtin does not get lost in the mix. Whenever I see her in old SNL clips, I wonder how she is not still one of the biggest comedy superstars around (at least she still is in my heart). Sure, few folks have ever maintained such a status into their seventies, but Curtin remains spry and clearly capable of throwing out some deadly zingers. And as Marjorie, the (understandably) impatient literary agent of an unruly client, she is doing exactly what any Jane Curtin fan wants to see.

That client is Lee Israel, who achieved a bit of success in the ’70s and ’80s with biographies of the likes of actress Tallulah Bankhead and game show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen. She is now struggling to pay her bills, partly because she insists on only writing about people who were popular decades ago and partly because she is too antisocial to hold down any regular job or maintain any human relationship. So she turns to penning letters that she passes off as the work of famous writers like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, selling the forgeries to collectors who are willing to play top dollar. Melissa McCarthy may not seem like the obvious choice to play Lee, though her aggressive comedy chops certainly lend themselves well to cynical wit-slinging. McCarthy actually benefits immensely from being able to underplay a bit. Lee is just as unapologetic as McCarthy’s normal stable of characters, so in a way Lee is actually right in her wheelhouse, but with fewer temptations to go more over-the-top than is bearable.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a bit of a two-hander, with a significant chunk of the runtime consisting of the shenanigans between Lee and her drinking buddy/partner-in-crime Jack Hock (Grant), a bon vivant in similarly dire financial straits. I know Grant primarily as the villainous puppetmaster Dr. Zander Rice in last year’s Logan, but fans of his breakthrough performance in Withnail and I will likely find plenty to recognize and love here. And those unfamiliar with Withnail should be happy to discover his infectious comedy chops. Lee and Jack are a salty-and-tart odd couple; they’re both gay, but also somehow kindred spirits. Their friendship fuels each of them to find a purpose in life, although their relationship is a bit volatile, as much of it is built around a criminal enterprise. Can You Ever Forgive Me? Resembles redemption narrative, but not quite. Instead, it is a story of self-actualization that manages to have as much of a naughty good time as it can.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is Recommended If You Like: Withnail and I, All About Eve, Sideways

Grade: 4 out of 5 Forgeries

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