Film Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an enjoyable comedy drama. The film is often funny, and at times moving.

Writer Lee Israel is down on her luck. After losing her job, and with her agent less than interested in her next project, Lee needs money fast. She stumbles on an unorthodox method of raising cash…

Directed by Marielle Heller based on a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? tells the real story of Lee Israel and her forgery of literary letters. The film focuses on aspects around this; Heller’s film is not a straightforward biopic. The narrative establishes the character and her circumstances in reasonable time. The first sequence is great; Heller gives a succinct summary of the protagonist in this one scene.

Lee Israel a very watchable character. Partly, this is due to her caustic personality; she is amusing in her bluntness. But there is more to Lee than this. The film offers a well-rounded depiction; a protagonist to root for in spite of her flaws. Her relationship with Jack develops nicely. These two characters play well off each other, and show another side to Lee.

There is a caperesque tone to Can You Ever Forgive Me? which is most enjoyable. Whilst she is committing crimes, there is a skill to her rouse which endears. Humour can be found throughout the film. Dialogue is superb, as are the contents of some of the forged letters. There is an emotional core to the picture that takes a little while to develop. However this is convincing, and there are some moving scenes, particularly in the final third. 

Heller’s depiction of New York in the the early 1990s is heady. The bookshops, the sidewalks, the dingy bars of Manhattan are all evocative. There is a nostalgia factor for sure, but it seems authentic. The jazz soundtrack is a great accompaniment.  Melissa McCarthy delivers a solid performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me?; it is great to see her in a more subdued role. Richard E. Grant injects energy and charm in the role of Jack.

Heller has delivered an endearing portrait of an intriguing character with Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.