The world of memorabilia is not one that I find myself familiar with, but is one I’m interested in. The way that people are willing to spend vast amounts of money on letters written to other people just seems bizarre to me. So when I heard that there was going to be a film about a famous case of forgery in this world, I was intrigued. After seeing the film, I have to say that I have more of an interest in this world, and how easy it could be for people to be taken advantage of.
The film concerns author Lee Israel who, following the critical and commercial failure of her most recent book, and being struck with writer’s block trying to write a biography of Fanny Brice, has to sell a letter she received from Katherine Hepburn in order to have enough money to pay her bills. After discovering how much money she can make with such letters, Israel starts faking letters from people like Fanny Brice and Noel Coward to make money, eventually enlisting the help of associate Jack Hock, with there being the threat of the FBI finding out throughout the film. Now what I really enjoyed about the film is that it feels like an accurate depiction of the writing process. The times that Israel sits down at her typewriter and finds that she can’t write anything are incredibly relatable, and there are a good few digs at Tom Clancy regarding his attitude towards writers block. The film also put me in mind of F For Fake in terms of how it depicts ‘experts,’ showing how much of the world of celebrity letters is pretty much bollocks, showing how easily Israel was able to fool so many people with her writing, along with showing how there was an audience for these letters that Israel was able to capitalise on.
In terms of the performances, I have to say that I’m not the biggest fan of Melissa McCarthy. Aside from some of her work with Paul Feig (mainly Spy and Ghostbusters, I’m someone who didn’t like Bridesmaids), but this is easily her best performance. For starters, she’s willing to make Israel unlikable, showing her to be an alcoholic, rude and bitter, with this serving to make Israel a more well rounded character. She also effectively shows the difficulty she has with her writing and her frustration over her own efforts as a writer being overlooked, only being able to achieve success by copying others, ensuring that she has no voice of her own. This helps to make Israel a compelling character and helps to show the difficulties she has in her personal life, especially in a scene with her former girlfriend, which is a strong moment for the character. Richard E Grant as Jack Hock meanwhile is a lot of fun. There are hints of his performance in Withnail and I here, which is always fun to see, with Grant playing the slimy con artist well, along with there being a hint of tragedy in his performance when we see how lonely he is. The chemistry that McCarthy and Grant share with each other is excellent, and helps to make the film so compelling. There are also interesting bits with Dolly Wells and Anna Deavere Smith, and it’s always nice to see Marc Evan Jackson pop up.
Overall, Can You Ever Forgive Me is an interesting look at the writing process and the world of letters, with strong performances by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant anchoring the film.
My Rating: 4/5