Can You Ever Forgive Me (***) R

Of the many films I’ve reviewed in which actress Melissa McCarthy was the lead female performer there have been few of which I’ve been a fan. For me, her most satisfying work was in a dramatic turn in the 2014 indie film, St. Vincent. I’ve always thought her performance in that film was a sign of positive things in her future if only she were offered and accepted the opportunity to participate in something other than those mostly atrocious comedies in which she routinely appears. With her latest film, the drama based on true events, Can You Ever Forgive Me, McCarthy finally gets a chance to do what I always knew what she was capable of. It’s an affecting performance that will be a revelation for those who only know McCarthy from her mostly indistinguishable comedies and it’s not a moment too soon.

McCarthy stars in the film as Lee Israel, who was a somewhat successful celebrity biographer in the 70s and 80s. And then, her books stopped selling. By the early 1990s, Israel found herself at a crossroads and was struggling financially. She chanced upon what seemed like a surefire plan, to forge the signatures of various celebrated literary figures and sell them to dealers as the real thing with the help of her somewhat irresponsible friend, Jack (Richard E. Grant). Maybe not the most original scheme ever concocted but Israel figured that most dealers wouldn’t know the difference. This proved to be true for a while.

Richard E. Grant & Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me

The film is scripted by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. Holofcener is the writer and director of many great films of the last two decades, chief among them the 2013 film Enough Said. It is adapted from Israel’s own autobiography and is also aided immeasurably by the sure-footed direction of Marielle Heller. Heller, along with her scripting team, use the film’s canvas as a way to explore many issues other than the one that’s front and center in the film’s plot.

I was especially surprised at what a pro LGBT message the film has in its portrayal of the gay characters. Israel’s lesbianism, particularly, is portrayed in a very low-key fashion that works well. One of the film’s most moving sequences is a dinner date involving Israel and the lady who owns a book store with whom Israel has been doing business. This is a beautiful scene that captures perfectly all of the confusion and nervousness of a first date. Unfortunately, this story thread isn’t resolved effectively and proves to be one of the film’s few flaws.

Still that’s a minor quibble in a movie that feels like a welcome breath of fresh air in the career of Melissa McCarthy. Let’s hope there’s more like it down the line.

Can You Ever Forgive Me will open at the Regal Manor Twin in Charlotte this Friday, November 2.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].