Best of The Fests: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Since we’re in the middle of the film festival season, we wanted to explore films from last year that caught the attention of critics. Last week we broke down the reasons that Widows was a festival favorite, and today we’ll be exploring the reactions to Can You Ever Forgive Me?. The film was directed by Marielle Heller and written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. Based on the confessional memoir of writer Lee Israel, the film follows her second career of forging letters from famous authors and playwrights. Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, and Richard Grant co-stars as her accomplice and friend, Jack Hock. The rest of the cast includes Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavere Smith, and Stephen Spinella. The biographical film premiered at Telluride on September 1, 2018, and while it received several nominations for performances and writing, it only managed to win the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
So, what made this feature a favorite among critics?
Two Stellar Leads
Sometimes performances can define a film, and admittedly, Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant make this movie what it is. McCarthy is known for her humor and comedic chops, but this film was one of the first outings that highlighted the depth of her acting abilities. She nails the deadpan looks and sarcastic one-liners that Israel favors, but McCarthy also manages to convey her loneliness and the brokenness that character carries. In fact, she gives this layered performance that results in Lee Israel not exactly being a likable character but an incredibly human one that audiences want to see succeed.
Of course, McCarthy’s portrayal of Israel would be incomplete without Grant’s performance as the lovable rogue, Jack Hock. Grant nails the eccentric nature of his personality and has a carefree attitude that challenges and compliments Israel’s nature. At the end of the day, these performers and the characters they portray make for an incredibly entertaining story that deftly walks the line between comedy and tragedy.
Offbeat & Endearing
Honestly, this film is offbeat and surprising, and I think it’s the unexpected nature of it that brought critics around. The character of Lee Israel is an intriguing one, and her real story is fascinating and incredibly unusual. She was once an accomplished writer, but by the end of the film, we see her being apprehended for forging letters of famous authors and playwrights. She is not likable but sympathetic, and she has a flair for words that are evident in the forged letters. She is layered and complicated and not the typical leading lady we see in films. With that said, this offbeat story is endearing and ultimately ends up being about loners and people who are overlooked and undervalued. It’s a feeling that most creatives can identify with, and it’s part of the reason this film stands out.
There’s a reason that this film won an award for best adapted screenplay. The screenplay perfectly balances comedy and drama, and with the way it’s structured, it moves at a good pace. As someone who has read this particular screenplay a couple of times, I can attest that the real strength comes from the character arcs and their dialogue. The dialogue is witty and poignant while also moving the characters forward.
At the end of the day, I will admit that Can You Ever Forgive Me? ranks as one of my favorite films of 2018. McCarthy and Grant are irresistible, and while I think it should have won more of its nominations, it deserved the award for best adapted screenplay. Funny, heartbreaking, and quirky, this is the kind of film that I dream of making one day.
So, have you ever watched Can You Ever Forgive Me? Did you find it as enjoyable as the critics did coming out of Telluride?
Comment, and let us know! And stay tuned next week as we explore another favorite from last year’s festival circuit.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.