Those who have seen The Diary of a Teenage Girl know that director Marielle Heller is a special talent. There are directors who relish big canvas, big stage, big stories (Think, Steven Spielberg). Then, there are directors who like intimate settings, small canvas and personal stories (Think, Richard Linklater). Put Marielle Heller in the second bracket. She knows how to make little stories that leave a big impact. ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me’ is one of those films.
Based on a true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me is set in the early 90s and follows Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), who after spending decades composing respectful profiles of successful women such as Katharine Hepburn and Tallulah Bankhead, finds herself out of a job with the emergent trash-talk trend in biography. Her new book about Estée Lauder is a commercial failure, her agent (Jane Curtin) has given up on her, and her finances have nosedived. With no other skills to fall back on, Lee comes up with a twisted method of capitalizing on the public’s obsession with fame. She teams up with an old friend Jack (Richard E. Grant) who has been freshly released from prison after serving time for armed robbery. Lee begins selling the stolen/forged correspondence of dead writers and actors. Her attempts at forgery are successful, but anything done to excess only leads to unwanted consequences. She learns this the hard way.
Can You Ever Forgive Me is a sharp commentary on the culture of celebrity obsessiveness, the pitfalls of greed, and the challenges of being a writer. The film is much an acting showcase for Melissa McCarthy as a compelling biopic. It is not just her best performance till date, but also one of the best performances of the year. There are traces of the witty and funny McMarthy we know, but don’t be mistaken; she is nothing like you have ever seen her before. Richard Grant is equally brilliant as Jack and matches McCarthy every step of the way with his wit and charm. I expect Oscar nominations for both of them, come the beginning of next year.
Overall, Can You Ever Forgive Me is an immensely satisfying experience in the end. While the film may not break new grounds, it certainly finds a way to touch your heart. I am eagerly waiting to see what Marielle Heller does next. Count me among her fan.