I Forgive Melissa McCarthy
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin
One of the best pieces of advice a writer can receive has to do with building a lead character:
Make them likable or unlikable, but for God’s sake make us feel something about them.
I recognize Melissa McCarthy’s stature as a comedic star. I mostly enjoyed her turn in Bridesmaids, but after a while her schtick grew a little tired to me. And, based on recent box office results, it’s not clicking too well with the rest of the movie-going public, either.
So when I first saw a trailer for Can You Ever Forgive Me, I was intrigued. McCarthy was leaving the bathroom humor behind and doing a serious flick, based on a true story.
Lee Israel (played by McCarthy) is a writer who’s hit rock bottom. Sales of her biographies have dried up, her agent rejects her proposed new project, and she’s unable to pay her rent or the veterinarian bills for her cat. A cat who, by the way, is essentially her only friend in the world.
Almost by accident, Israel discovers a somewhat-lucrative market in literary letters. She sells a signed letter from Katherine Hepburn to a collector, which sets into motion a new “career.” She first steals authentic letters from the New York Public Library for Performing Arts to sell, and then she becomes a first-rate forger.
Over a period of 18 months she purchases old-time typewriters to match the look of original notes from people like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, and even snatches vintage paper from library books to create an authentic feel.
Of course, something goes wrong. It has to.
But let’s not talk any further about the plot. Instead, let’s talk about Melissa McCarthy creating a character with an actual 3-D personality. Her performance is excellent, taking a terrific script by Nicole Holfcener and Jeff Whitty and playing it perfectly. Lee Israel comes across as acerbic and downright cruel; there’s no way you should like her.
Is she lonely? I kept asking myself that question during the movie, but I’m pretty sure the answer is no. She’s a loner and that’s okay by her. More than anything, however, she’s interesting. We want to watch what she does next.
I’ve been thirsting for films that actually have a story and fascinating characters. Not long ago I even wrote a piece about my disdain for the overdose of CGI we continue to get. Please, I begged, just give me character, plot, and solid performances.
Enter Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I mentioned to Gretchen my surprise at seeing McCarthy in such a role, and she reminded me that there were a few dramatic roles from the actress prior to her streak of dumb comedies. (Dumbedies?)
I suppose. I just hadn’t seen them. But although I’m sure the box office tally for this new film will be minuscule, let’s hope Melissa McCarthy is energized to do more like this. It allows us a chance to, yes, forgive her, for the bombs.
I’ll put this in my top five for 2018. Watch the trailer below.