For a re­view of “Can You Ever For­give Me?,”

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Marielle Heller’s sec­ond fea­ture film, “Can You Ever For­give Me?,” is an in­ter­est­ing com­pan­ion piece (and mir­ror) to her de­but, “The Di­ary of a Teenage Girl.” Both films are adap­ta­tions of women’s mem­oirs, and both care­fully in­spect the ways in which women nav­i­gate and sur­vive with re­gard to their age and sex­u­al­ity. As writ­ers, the char­ac­ters are aware of this, and aware of how they can cre­ate their own re­al­ity with their words.

While “Di­ary” fol­lowed a nu­bile young ’70s sex ob­ject, “Can You Ever For­give Me?,” based on the book by au­thor Lee Is­rael, adapted for the screen by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, is about an older queer woman, over­looked by so­ci­ety, cre­at­ing her worth with her words us­ing lib­er­tine and ac­tu­ally il­le­gal meth­ods. Lee Is­rael, played by Melissa McCarthy, is an au­thor in early ’90s New York strug­gling to make ends meet. Al­though she once had a New York Times best-seller, her agent (Jane Curtin) has no in­ter­est in her long-ges­tat­ing Fanny Brice bi­og­ra­phy and writes Lee off be­cause she’s not a “name” au­thor like Tom Clancy or Nora Ephron.

Lee is too prickly and drunk to play well with oth­ers, and she finds her­self in dire fi­nan­cial straits. When she sells off a per­sonal note from Katharine Hep­burn to Anna (Dolly Wells), a friendly book­shop owner and pur­veyor of rare lit­er­ary mem­o­ra­bilia, Lee dis­cov­ers her sal­va­tion: forgery. If her per­sonal words have no value, she can as­cribe them value by pass­ing them off as some­one else’s. Us­ing a va­ri­ety of vin­tage type­writ­ers, she dashes off notes of cheeky wit­ti­cisms, sign­ing the names of Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward and Marlene Di­et­rich, and sells them for top dol­lar to a net­work of deal­ers and col­lec­tors. The forg­eries keep her rent paid and her cat fed, and she and her pal, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), swim­ming in Scotch and so­das.

Jack is gay and home­less, and he seem­ingly sub­sists en­tirely on cig­a­rettes, out­size charm and his in­gra­ti­at­ing per­son­al­ity. He of­fers Lee friend­ship, and she of­fers him shel­ter. To­gether, they are each other’s life rafts, cling­ing to each other as in­di­vid­u­als upon whom a cap­i­tal­ist cul­ture doesn’t place much value upon and there­fore for­gets. To stay afloat, Lee takes on new iden­ti­ties, ones val­ued for their celebrity, to wring out enough cash to get by.

“Can You Ever For­give Me?” ex­ists on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety, but Heller makes it a cozy world to in­habit none­the­less. It’s a gal­axy of rare, old books stacked to the ceil­ing, of dive bars and red leather booths and brown liquor, tweed jack­ets and type­writ­ers and an­swer­ing ma­chines with tapes. A moody, jazz-in­spired score by Nate Heller skips and swoons dream­ily through­out the best book­shops and boozy haunts of early ’90s New York.

McCarthy is ex­cep­tional as the iras­ci­ble Lee, and her skill in a dra­matic role should be no sur­prise. Her per­for­mance is de­tailed, nu­anced and sub­tly af­fect­ing, while Grant brings the relief as the tragi­comic Jack, who show­boats in cir­cles around McCarthy, who’s in the straight man role for a change.

Al­though the ti­tle begs for­give­ness, it’s laced with a sense of Is­rael’s sig­na­ture bit­ing sar­casm. Can you for­give her for try­ing? Can you for­give her for sur­viv­ing? The real ques­tion is: Can she ever for­give us, for un­der­es­ti­mat­ing her worth?

“Can You Ever For­give Me?,” a Fox Search­light Pic­tures, is rated R for lan­guage in­clud­ing some sex­ual ref­er­ences, and brief drug use. Run­ning time: 106 min­utes.

★★★★

“Hal­loween”

Di­rec­tor David Gor­don Green got his start with art­house dra­mas but is per­haps best known for the baked hu­mor of “Pineap­ple Ex­press.” So it’s apt that, de­spite plenty of gore, his ver­sion of “Hal­loween,” the lat­est se­quel to John Car­pen­ter’s 1978 ur-slasher, some­times feels like a hor­ror movie with a con­tact high. But if ram­bling di­gres­sions can in­spire un­ex­pected con­nec­tions that lead to a good joke, they also work against the ten­sion re­quired for an ef­fec­tive thriller.

Forty years af­ter the events of the first film, the 11th ti­tle in the fran­chise pro­ceeds as if all the other se­quels never hap­pened (al­though the sec­ond one’s plot twist is al­luded to as an ur­ban leg­end). A pair of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists visit de­ranged killer Michael My­ers in his max­i­mum­se­cu­rity in­sti­tu­tion for the crim­i­nally in­sane. You’d think its in­mates would be un­set­tled by the red-and­white checker­board prison yard, but this self-con­scious art di­rec­tion feels forced, and it leads the film away from the creepy nat­u­ral­ism that was Car­pen­ter’s strength.

Yet My­ers isn’t the only pris­oner, as we see when the jour­nal­ists meet Lau­rie Strode (Jamie Lee Cur­tis, repris­ing her break­out role) in the se­cluded wood­land fortress that she has built for her­self. Cur­tis ef­fec­tively plays Lau­rie, who as a teenage babysit­ter sur­vived My­ers’s homi­ci­dal ram­page. Now, she’s a griz­zled sur­vivor eaten alive by para­noia which she has un­suc­cess­fully tried to in­still in her daugh­ter, Karen (Judy Greer), and grand­daugh­ter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). But that para­noia may come in handy, thanks to a lu­di­crous plot point: Au­thor­i­ties have de­cided to trans­port My­ers to a new fa­cil­ity — on Oct. 31, of all days.

What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

The wan­der­ing screen­play, writ­ten by Green with Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride (who co-starred in “Pineap­ple Ex­press”), in­tro­duces throw­away char­ac­ters that at times seem more in­trigu­ing than the main play­ers. When a farmer and his young son are driv­ing down a dark road, the boy can’t stop talk­ing about his dream of be­com­ing a dancer, as­pi­ra­tions that are shat­tered when they hap­pen up on the scene of a bus ac­ci­dent that re­leases Michael My­ers back into the world.

This en­tirely pre­dictable in­ci­dent loses steam when a pair of backup po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rive and get caught up in a dis­cus­sion of banh mi sand­wiches. This kind of lame comic relief makes it dif­fi­cult for the movie to build any kind of ten­sion.

Lau­rie’s fam­ily tells her to for­get the past and get on with her life. So it is ironic that the movie is such a nos­tal­gia fest, with co­pi­ous ref­er­ences to the first film, from the mu­sic (slightly up­dated by Car­pen­ter him­self) and ti­tle font to a scene where Allyson glances out­side her class­room win­dow to see Lau­rie — mir­ror­ing a shot from the 1978 film in which Lau­rie looks out­side her class­room to see My­ers.

Car­pen­ter’s orig­i­nal film is a mas­ter­piece of hor­ror that has in­spired countless in­fe­rior re­treads. This is far from the worst, but its re­turn to the past feels more like a “Hal­loween”-themed party. And as a hor­ror com­edy, it’s not scary enough — or funny enough.

“Hal­loween,” a Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for hor­ror vi­o­lence and bloody im­ages, crude lan­guage, brief drug use and nu­dity. Run­ning time: 109 min­utes.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jamie Lee Cur­tis stars in the lat­est re­boot of the hor­ror clas­sic “Hal­loween,” in the­aters na­tion­wide to­day.

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