Lee Israel made her living in the 70s and 80s profiling the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Estée Lauder.
When Lee is no longer able to get published after falling out of step with current taste, she turns to deception to make ends meet all with a little help of her only friend Jack.
“Can you ever forgive me?” is a direct adaptation of Israel’s own memoir of the same name. Lee Israel passed away in December 2014, age 75, only a few months before a film version was announced, if she had been alive to see it I hoped she would have liked it as much as me.
I knew nothing of Lee Israel until I recently saw Melissa McCarthy interviewed on the Graham Norton show. Her description of this true life story sparked an interest in a film which seems so far away from McCarthy’s normal offerings (which I have to say, are some of my favourite comedies over the last few years) and as soon as she mentioned Richard E Grant I just had to find out more.
This is a small ensemble piece with the two central characters Lee and Jack played extremely well be McCarthy and Grant.
The story starts in 1991 with Lee sitting at a small desk, proof reading documents, clearly hating her job and everyone around her. It takes all of about 5 minutes for her to tell someone to go f***k themselves, get instantly fired, down a glass of whisky and walk home and for us to realise this lady has issues.
We then meet Jack Hock (Richard E Grant), who stumbles into a bar at 4 o’clockin the afternoon, sees Lee wallowing in self pity, and decides to join her for a drink. The two of them had met briefly some years before, aqantacies rather than friends but as the afternoon turns into the evening and one drink turns into several they find common ground for their uneasy friendship to grow.
Lee is behind on her rent, unable to buy food and when her beloved cat falls ill has no way to pay an expensive vet bill. She needs to find a way to make money and fast.
Selling a personal letter from Katherine Hepburn is enough to plant the seed of an idea, which turns from a little embellishment, to fall blown forgery.
With Jack’s help Lee becomes more confident in her ability, starts to take greater risks, but this eventually becomes her undoing.
McCarthy is so well cast you instantly forget her previous persona’s and it’s her portrayal of this frumpy, grumpy middle aged woman with just a little warmth that in a instant makes you completely understand who she is and actually quite like her.
There is a real chemistry on screen between our two lead characters, their love hate relationship perfectly played out with subtle comedic moments and great script.
Richard E Grant is a joy to watch, pure Withnail, to think after 32 years as a working actor this is his first ever Oscar nomination.
It’s also great to see Ben Falcone (Mr Melissa McCarthy) popping up as a slightly unscrupulous bookshop owner.
The film has a really lovely independent feel about it, with in my opinion faultless performances. A great little story.