McCarthy Gives A Career Best Performance in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
The performances dominate in Marielle Heller's latest film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Melissa McCarthy and Richard Grant burn brightly at its center. However, outside the film’s witty dialogue and wickedly good lead performances, it doesn’t have much to offer and struggles to fill the whole cup.
Based off the book of the same name, Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, the best-selling celebrity biographer (and cat lover) who made her living in the 1970's and 80's profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estée Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee finds herself unable to get published because she’s fallen out of step with the marketplace, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant).
Melissa McCarthy has always been one of those performers that I could only tolerate in very small doses and her comedy, which is fairly lowbrow, rarely ever landed with me. Until now, that is.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? presents her with the perfect canvas to project her talents onto, and she does miracles with the role she’s been given because Lee Israel is far from a likable person. This faded and forgotten biographer is an uppity grouch who’s rude to those closest to her (except for her cat) and ruthlessly malicious to everyone else. Yet, McCarthy infuses her with such pathos, showing us a wide array of emotions and flexing her range, allowing the vulnerability hiding being Israel’s bitter facade to shine through.
When you add Israel’s drinking buddy, Jack Hock (who’s played terrifically by Richard Grant), everything gets far more entertaining. Their rapport sparkles on screen, and their quick and quippy back and forth exchanges are an absolute joy to behold. However, outside of these performances, there’s very little to get jazzed about.
The film’s style is as exciting as Israel’s fashion sense: full of drab, muted colors and sorely lacking any vibrancy. This mirrors the interior of the Israel’s character, but doesn’t provide much aesthetic stimulation for the viewer. On top of that, Heller’s simple and fluid direction leans very Woody Allenesque, which doesn’t necessarily count as a negative; however, in this instance, it feels too much like a stylistic imitation without any semblance of singularity to Heller’s vision.
The soundtrack, which consists of cuts that were Israel’s favorites, seem a bit forced into the final product, but I enjoyed quite a bit of it. There are several moments where the musical selections don’t exactly cohere to the film’s visual and narrative language. For example, the Pixies “There Goes My Gun” — which is a great track — appears out of nowhere amidst a soundtrack filled with mostly jazz, and doesn’t add any layers to the scene it’s laid over.
Ultimately, it all hinges on whether not you feel that Lee Israel is worthy of forgiveness. While the film painted a very complex and lovingly humane portrait of this criminal, it didn’t convince me that Israel was worthy of total absolution, especially since she has little remorse for her criminal action. Perhaps, the results will be different for you. However, regardless of your overall satisfaction, this film is deserving of a watch at some point due to the career best effort McCarthy puts in here.
Rating: 3 rounds outta 5.
What do you think? Did you like the film? Do you think this was McCarthy’s best performance? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!