Usually appearing in Paul Feig’s latest comedy or hosting Saturday Night Live, Melissa McCarthy’s new project, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ sees her starring in a dramatic role, somewhat of a rarity for the polarizing performer. She portrays Lee Israel, an American author with a shady legacy. Based on her 2008 memoir sharing the same name as the film’s title and brought to life by director Marielle Heller would this unexpected pairing of a dramatic narrative and comedic lead be a success?
In short, yes. ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ showcases the perfect combination of McCarthy’s dramatic and comedic acting ability. She leads this biographical drama with a captivating presence and likeability despite her character’s indifference to people and accepted social normalities. She carefully portrays a complex character dealing with struggles in her career but also with her inability to allow people to get close to her. Casting McCarthy would be criminal without utilising her wonderful comedic ability and the screenplay here facilitates this excellently. It allows her to demonstrate just why she is so successful in the comedy genre, delivering one of her funniest performances of her career.
Speaking of funny, her co-star Richard E. Grant is utterly hysterical. From his first appearance on screen he brings with him a fantastic sense of energy that is impossible not to get caught up in. His chemistry with McCarthy is superb and while being more flamboyant than her, he never upstages her instead enhancing her performance as well as the narrative as a whole.
The screenplay here, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty provides a deeply intriguing insight into Lee Israel’s fascinating story. With no prior knowledge of Israel the film appears to begin as a simple yet humourous look at an author experiencing writer’s block but then it develops into much more when her more interesting history starts to reveal itself. It is executed with a fine momentum, escalating nicely through its runtime. Throughout the film the story is complimented by its brilliant humour, conveyed by its superb main cast and its enthralling drama which has a truly inquisitive quality to it.
McCarthy and Grant’s attention during this awards season is completely warranted by their work here with both of them excelling in career defining turns. They contribute abundantly to this film which is equal parts fun and fascinating, telling Israel’s story in an extremely entertaining way. Are the performances better than the film itself? Quite possibly but the screenplay still provides a compelling story just one that its exceptional players give life to brilliantly, somewhat overshadowing it but for that it can certainly be forgiven.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 8/10
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Thanks to Movie House Cinemas for screening access