Can You Ever Forgive Me? is Marielle Heller’s biographical film based on author Lee Israel’s involvement in literary forgery during the early 90s. Starring Melissa McCarthy as Israel the film chronicles how she went from a struggling author making no money to a criminal who was forging and selling letters from deceased authors and playwrights.
And it feels like McCarthy is really the star of the show here. Mostly known for her comedic performances this is more of a dramatic turn for McCarthy, and she delivers what is probably the best performance of her career. Towards the ending of the film she really shines as she talks about what Israel’s feelings about what has transpired.
Alongside her is Richard E. Grant as the flamboyant drug dealer Jack Hock, who is far more over the top than the understated McCarthy, but this hides an undercurrent of real sadness in Grant’s performance. His chemistry with McCarthy is undeniable, and their double act is really what stand out as great from Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
Sadly that is really the only thing that’s memorable in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. Everything else outside the performances feels rather drab and lifeless. There’s nothing exceptionally bad in Heller’s direction or Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s screenplay, but there is also nothing exciting or fresh about them either. Even though it has a potentially interesting and new narrative, the film never really delivers on that just feeling stale.
And sadly that in the end is the killer of the film. Mediocrity is far more forgeterble than something awful, and mediocrity is probably the best way to sum up most of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is a shame because the performances that McCarthy and Grant give deserve better.