Melissa McCarthy was the breakout star in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Her role as Megan, the unabashedly outrageous bridesmaid, earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Since then, McCarthy has received top-billing in several comedies including The Heat (a personal favorite) and Spy, launched a fashion line, and briefly but memorably impersonated Sean Spicer, former White House Press Secretary, on Saturday Night Live. However, for her latest movie, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, McCarthy abandons the over-the-top persona that made her famous and instead opts for a more serious role. While Can You Ever Forgive Me? is forgettable, credit must be given to McCarthy for transforming a prickly historical biographer turned felon into the kind of person for whom I could root.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on a true story about Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), an acclaimed writer in the 60’s and 70’s. After the ill-fated release of her Estee Lauder biography in the mid 80’s, Israel has trouble keeping a steady job. Unable to afford rent or her beloved cat’s skyrocketing vet bills, Israel starts forging personal letters by famous authors in an effort to make ends meet. Later, Israel enlists her newfound friend and junkie named Jack (Richard E. Grant) to assist with her scam. Can You Ever Forgive Me? doesn’t care to perpetuate a cat-and-mouse game between Israel and the FBI. Instead, the movie explores Israel’s motivation to keep the operation going even after her rent is paid and her cat is healthy. Unfortunately, it’s this exploration that left me checking my watch to see how many more minutes I had remaining before I could make a swift exit.
McCarthy and Grant (who is long overdue for some recognition) are the only reasons to see this movie. They are delightful together despite their friendship being built on shared loneliness and alcoholism. Jack is the Louise to Israel’s Thelma. Unfortunately, Jack’s poor choices and Israel’s inability to open up doom the friendship. Still, it’s a lot of fun watching them make prank calls and slingback whiskey ginger ales together.
While Lee Israel seems like a departure for McCarthy, she’s actually not. In the movie, Lee is as clever as she is cold, and McCarthy delivers Lee’s zingers with perfect timing. It wasn’t until midway through the movie when it clicked for me –no one else could’ve done a better job, not even the most prestigious actress. Lee and McCarthy possess the same biting wit that attracts audiences, and McCarthy is at her funniest in the movie when she uses her wit take down her opponents.
Even though the movie itself fails to make a lasting impression, Can You Ever Forgive Me? will likely earn Melissa McCarthy her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress, an honor she rightfully deserves.