True story is wacky and poignant

POST Newspapers - - Movietime - RE­VIEW: PIER LEACH

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.

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