The thing about some modern low-budget films is that they’re often times closer to the pictures that we used to consistently get a couple of decades ago. What you found more frequently then were movies that were dependent on performances and stories above anything else. This allowed those films to create a sense of intimacy that could reach an audience in a way most are simply unable to in modern times. If Hollywood still worked that way, Can You Ever Forgive Me? could conceivably have a chance to achieve that since it would likely receive more promotion than it actually has.
In this fact-based tale, we meet Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a woman who’s financial opportunities have dried up completely. As someone who made money in the past profiling celebrities like Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, and Estee Lauder, a drastic shift in what gets read and financed has effectively frozen her out of the marketplace. In order to save herself from this predicament, Israel decides to use her skill and knowledge to make cash by forging documents from celebrities of the past and selling them.
What we have here is a simple story of a flawed protagonist looking for the quickest way out of a less than ideal scenario. To tell this story effectively, Can You Ever Forgive Me? paints a subtle and patient picture about the subject right when we are first introduced to Lee Israel. It let’s you in on what’s going on and allows the lead to carry us to where we need to be. For a film like this, this structure gives the characters the opportunity to do that. As a result, not only do the actors benefit from this, but so does the movie itself.
The performances are almost as subtle and low-key as the movie sometimes, but there’s enough energy from the actors to engage potential viewers. Since the actors are asked to generate most of the interest, they proved to be the most important feature when looking at the film’s overall value and quality. And as someone who loves appealing characters with the potential to hold your attention, this is something I can appreciate.
Of the few characters who get any substantial time on-screen, most of the responsibility predictably falls into the hands of Melissa McCarthy. You’ll come to find that her performance is mostly dramatic here outside of a couple of instances where comedy pops up for a brief period. This kind of job is rare for her to take on, but as she’s done in the past in films such as St. Vincent, she’s shown to have the ability to handle roles like this.
I’ve never really been much of a fan of her brand of comedy anyway, and it seems like more people are growing somewhat tired of her style. If I’m correct, maybe starring in features where she can actually act will allow her to adequately transition into the next phase of her career before her act wears thin completely. A change like this could only help. By selecting this path, she could still find a way to be comedic while toning it down and becoming much more than what she’s seen as.
Speaking of comedy, the small bit that we do get from McCarthy here is different from what she usually does in that it fits into what’s going on in the movie. It’s also never outlandish and never sticks around long enough to over stay its welcome. It just shows up, does what it’s supposed to do, and drifts back into the shadows. In some situations, you don’t even know when it’s coming, but it manages to work nearly every time it is produced.
I don’t believe Can You Ever Forgive Me? will reach the level of fanfare and acclaim it probably deserves, but it’s a solid piece of simplistic filmmaking. The soft way in which it’s presented to us helps, but the acting is what gives it the ability to become more than just a plain movie with very little pop. If you see it at some point, you’ll likely feel the same way. That could be in theaters or eventually at home. Either way, I think most people who watch this will be satisfied with this small, low-budget affair.
Director: Marielle Heller
Richard E. Grant
Anna Deavere Smith
Film Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2018
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
- Score - 7/107/10