CAN YOU EVER FOR­GIVE ME?

STAR­RING: Melissa Mccarthy, Richard E. Grant

WHO - - The List -

She’s broke, she drinks too much, her cat is sick and her books don’t sell; even her hair looks like a de­pressed ferret. Lee Is­rael (Mccarthy) is as clever as any writer out there, but she doesn’t know how to play the New York pub­lish­ing game – schmooz­ing, mak­ing nice, not steal­ing toi­let pa­per and shrimp canapés from her edi­tor’s cock­tail par­ties.

So, after stum­bling into a happy ac­ci­dent at the pub­lic li­brary, she de­cides to in­vent her own lit­er­ary game, im­per­son­at­ing the pri­vate let­ters of beloved long-dead celebri­ties (Fanny Brice, Noël Cow­ard, Dorothy Parker). Soon, her witty epis­tles are thrilling col­lec­tors and pay­ing the rent. It’s just that they aren’t tech­ni­cally hers; also, they’re a crime.

The premise of Can You Ever For­give Me? is so low-key out­ra­geous, it would al­most have to be true. And it is – a shaggy, en­dear­ingly sour por­trait of the kind of old-school ec­cen­tric the world hardly seems to have room for any­more. Di­rec­tor Marielle Heller flaw­lessly re-cre­ates the early-’90s Man­hat­tan of Se­in­feld re­runs, a leached-brown city with windy park benches, linoleum-coun­tered din­ers and clut­tered apart­ments.

Mccarthy, ut­terly trans­formed, tamps down her manic comic en­ergy into a sort of squir­relly, qui­etly fu­ri­ous ball as a woman who des­per­ately wants to con­nect but can’t help hat­ing every­one she meets. And her in­ter­play with ad­dled bon vi­vant Jack Hock (Grant), her fel­low out­cast and barfly, is fan­tas­tic – they’re two for­ever-square pegs soaked in whiskey and bitch­ery.

If Can You Ever’s ac­tual story feels slight, it’s worth stay­ing just to spend two hours with these char­ac­ters. Not only Jack and Lee, but the cyn­ics, kooks and lon­ers who pop­u­late the rest of it – Lee’s dis­mis­sive edi­tor (Jane Curtin); the gawky, ten­der-hearted book­store owner reach­ing out from her own lone­li­ness (Dolly Wells); a conga line of ea­ger buy­ers and rent boys and FBI agents.

The movie, like the real story, even­tu­ally doles out its con­se­quences, but Heller never re­ally judges. It’s al­ways bet­ter to ask for for­give­ness, after all, than per­mis­sion.

(Out now)

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