Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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Melancholic, indeed dour, with a colour palette of (too much) brown and grey, Marielle Heller’s real-life tale of small(ish) time literary fraud is resolutely one-note, as is Melissa McCarthy’s central performance as Lee Israel, a biographical author who, jobless and desperate in early-90s Manhattan, began a small(ish) life of literary crime. Luckily, the film has a few joltingly interesting twists and turns, and Richard E. Grant, who is, has been and always will be joltingly interesting.

Heller’s direction is uninspired. She uses four montage sequences, each of which could have been replaced with a single, inventive scene. Voice-over narration has often been given a critical cold shoulder, but surely montage sequences are cinema’s ultimate lazy storytelling device. Here, they may as well signify potential toilet breaks.

But the story, small as it is, is intriguing, and Grant, big as he is, is super watchable. He’s playing a very to-type role – sad and flamboyant – but that’s his stock in trade and he owns it. Also, the period set design – Manhattan in winter – is superb; the story evolves mostly in pubs, bookstores, libraries and antique shops, and all ring both true and poetically evocative. I lived in Manhattan then, and I’ve been in those places, with their cramped, wooden, dusty romance. That spirit is present, and helps the film stay alive amidst its strident sadness.

One thought on “Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  1. Great review! The film isn’t a top priority for me (I haven’t been watching movies lately anyway,) but the premise sounds interesting and I’d like to see Melissa McCarthy in a dramatic role. I’m not familiar with Richard E. Grant, though. It sounded like your nostalgia for Manhattan was a big part of what made your review a little more positive. Other than the portrayal of Manhattan and Richard E. Grant, it sounds like you felt the film was pretty mediocre. Have you read the book version? (I want to read it before I watch the movie, that’s usually my rule.) 🙂

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