What? A review? On a Sunday? No, you aren’t going mad. I’ve decided that, in order to get all my pre-Oscar reviews up before the big day, that I’m going to have to change my schedule for a bit. I started writing this yesterday but ended up feeling so bad that I went to bed early. But that’s not important because, at this point in my life, I have watched all of the Best Picture nominees. The only ones I want to try to watch before the ceremony, if I have the time, are The Wife and At Eternity’s Gate. But, if I don’t then I won’t do feel bad. I managed to watch the films I wanted to and well on time. Unlike last year when I was watching them up to the last-minute pretty much. I think I saw my final one the day before the ceremony. In fairness, there were 9 nominees last year. That’s a whole extra film to find the time for. It was tough! But I digress… So, I’ve seen all the nominees but I still need to review 3 of them. And, let’s not forget, the actual ceremony is on February 24th which is just over a week away. If I’m going to have the reviews up in time then I need to hurry the fuck up. Meaning the fact that I’m starting my extra reviews with a non-Best Picture film is kind of absurd… but I watched this before the other two. And I’m not really looking forward to having to write the final 2. To say I have mixed feelings about them is an under-statement.
The Oscar nominations have been as weird as ever this year… I might even be so bold as to so even more so than usual. There are so many films nominated for Best Picture that I’m not sure deserve to be there (Bo Rhap and Vice you can hide at the back but you know who I’m talking about). And there are probably loads of films out there that deserved to be and weren’t. Like today’s film. I’d wanted to see this as soon as I saw the trailer months ago. Regular readers of the blog will know that I’m a huge Melissa McCarthy fan and have been since The Gilmore Girls days. She hasn’t really given herself many chances to show off how good an actor she is over the years but this looked different. And, man, who can ever see that Richard E. Grant is in a film and not get excited?
Especially when the real-life story of writer Lee Israel is so fucking insane. The film is based on the memoir she wrote depicting her life of crime. Israel (Melissa McCarthy) earned a meagre wage writing biographies of great women but her agent is no longer willing to take her call. On top of that, she is an alcoholic who just got fired from a job she hated. Her only friend in the world, her elderly cat, is sick and treatment is too expensive. The only thing Lee can think to do is sell some of her letters from Fanny Brice, the subject of her latest biography. The letters are authentic but not juicy enough to earn the big bucks. So, Lee starts to embellish, which leads her down a road to straight-up forgery. Soon she is fooling the world of literary memorabilia into thinking she is Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward and anyone else she can think of.
It’s a brilliant scheme that proves works to Lee’s advantage. In an earlier scene, her agent suggests that is Lee’s lack of voice that is causing her to be an unsellable author. She is so used to taking on the voice of the people she is writing about that taking on the persona of these legends for her letters is a breeze. Though she gets cocky and starts making mistakes. When the store owners start to get suspicious of Lee she sends in someone else in her place. Thankfully she has befriended a down-and-out drug dealer, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) and can send him in his place.
This is one of those films that went through quite a journey before it got the cast we ended up with. Originally Julianne Moore and Chris O’Dowd were set to star in the film as directed by co-writer Nicole Holofcener. Having seen the sensational performances from both McCarthy and Grant it is hard to imagine anyone else playing these parts. And Marielle Heller, director of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, manages to delicately balance the humour with the emotional pull of the story. There is a lot of dark humour throughout Can You Ever Forgive Me? which both actors handle as easily as you’d expect. At the same time, there are plenty of tender moments that manage to make the audience sympathetic to someone as unlikable as Lee. She is a woman who has committed to a life full of self-hatred and self-destruction. She refuses to accept the good things that come her way and will not take the advice of anyone else. Her stubbornness sets her on a path that, on the one hand, helps her find her voice but, on the other, pushes her further into obscurity.
This is a dark and shabby kind of film that feels more comfortable as a character study than a narrative. The film flies when the main pair are on-screen together. There is something touching in their awkward friendship that feels more notable because we are seeing two openly gay characters over the age of 50 fronting a film. It’s not necessarily the most obvious story to get excited about but there is a definite charm emanating from the screen at all time. It is solely down to the two lead actors that this film entertains with the ferocity that it does. It made me feel happier and more content that other Best Picture nominees that it feels even more unjust that it received such a small amount of recognition.