True story is wacky and poignant
Between her Oscarnominated role in 2011’s Bridesmaids and viral 2017 send-up of Trump’s then press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live, Melissa McCarthy’s dimple-cheeked face has become synonymous with ballsy comedy.
In Can You Ever Forgive Me? she gets laughs too – but it is an entirely different proposition.
It’s darker and more dramatic than anything McCarthy has done before, and she lets it fairly rip as a boozed-up malcontent with a caustic tongue, criminal proclivities, and – with a house cat for a best friend – dubious domestic hygiene.
Even better is that the story is based on truth. Lee Israel, who died in 2014, was a biographer of celebrities who made the New York Times bestseller list in the 1980s but by the 90s was an impoverished recluse who had fallen resolutely from grace.
Struggling to find work and half-heartedly researching a Fanny Brice biography nobody wants to publish,
Israel comes across one of Brice’s letters, and, when she manages to procure cash for it, stumbles into a surprising new career as a literary grifter.
Israel soon realises that channelling the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward in zesty faux correspondence is a lucrative, not to mention creatively rewarding, career move – so much so she soon has her charming gay barfly buddy Jack Hock (an excellent Richard E. Grant) in on the scam.
Directed by Marielle Heller, who made 2015’s impressive The Diary of a Teenage Girl, the film’s poignancy lies in its vivid portrait of a woman whose aversion to putting her own voice on the line finds expression – and indeed brilliance (“I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker!”) – using the voices of others. Fraudulence be damned.
It’s a fabulous story, and Heller locates the loneliness at its core; indeed, the film is as sad as it is acerbically funny.
Adapted from Israel’s own memoir of the same cheeky title by Jeff Whitty and Nicole Holofcener, who has a gift for writing flawed female characters you can relate to (Enough Said, Please Give), it’s as much an ode to creativity as it is about a woman on the edge.
A bravura McCarthy makes her a messy, whiskey-swilling misanthrope you can’t help but cheer for.
Melissa McCarthy is a boozed-up malcontent with a caustic tongue.