David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Imust ad­mit that the style of com­edy epit­o­mised by Melissa McCarthy in films such as Brides­maids, Ghost­busters and The Heat doesn’t much ap­peal to me, so I ap­proached her star­ring role in Can You Ever For­give Me? with some trep­i­da­tion. I’m happy to say she’s mag­nif­i­cent in the film, which is based on the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal book of the same name by Lee Is­rael, a strug­gling writer who at­tempted to sup­port her mod­est life­style by un­der­tak­ing some un­usual crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. Co-scripted by Ni­cole Holofcener, a fine di­rec­tor in her own right, and di­rected by Marielle Heller, an ac­tress turned di­rec­tor whose The Di­ary of a Teenage Girl a few years ago was a lit­tle gem, Can You Ever For­give Me? is a touch­ing and ten­der com­edy drama.

It un­folds in New York in 1991. Is­rael (McCarthy), who lives alone in a small apart­ment with only her beloved cat for com­pany, once made a liv­ing from writ­ing bi­ogra­phies of celebri­ties. She has found some suc­cess with her books on Broad­way diva Tal­lu­lah Bankhead and Es­tee Lauder, but no pub­lisher seems ea­ger to ac­quire her lat­est ef­fort, a book about leg­endary vaudeville star Fanny Brice, de­spite the fact Bar­bra Streisand had im­mor­talised Brice in two suc­cess­ful movies, Funny Girl (1968) and Funny Lady (1975).

Her at­tempts to find “reg­u­lar” work are com­pro­mised by her “dif­fi­cult” at­ti­tude and her propen­sity for pro­fan­ity. She owes money to her vet, among oth­ers, and she spends her time at home alone, watch­ing old movies on TV (she knows ev­ery line of the Bette Davis clas­sic The Lit­tle Foxes).

Is­rael be­comes des­per­ate enough to start sell­ing her be­long­ings, mostly books, but there’s not much joy in that ei­ther — un­til, among her Brice re­search, she comes across a cou­ple of let­ters writ­ten by the diva her­self. These, she dis­cov­ers, are valu­able. There are peo­ple who col­lect such things and are will­ing to pay good money for them. This gives Is­rael the idea of forg­ing let­ters sup­pos­edly writ­ten by celebri­ties such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Cow­ard.

It’s not that hard to do, be­cause she is able to copy a printed let­ter­head, ac­quire the same sort of type­writer once used by Parker and Cow­ard, em­u­late the style of those world-fa­mous wits — she par­tic­u­larly en­joys this part of it — and then fake a sig­na­ture. For a while she gets away with it (“I’m a bet­ter Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker”).

Her part­ner in crime is Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant in his best per­for­mance for years), a dis­so­lute bon vi­vant and al­co­holic whose charm is def­i­nitely fad­ing but whose en­thu­si­asm and en­cour­age­ment are per­sua­sive — un­til, that is, Is­rael re­luc­tantly al­lows him to stay in her Can You Ever For­give Me? Wide na­tional re­lease Cli­max (MA15+) Lim­ited re­lease Cli­max

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever For­give Me?; be­low, a scene from

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