For a review of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,”
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.
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.
Jamie Lee Curtis stars in the latest reboot of the horror classic “Halloween,” in theaters nationwide today.