ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No.6: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Year: 2018

Runtime: 106 Minutes

Director: Marielle Heller

Writers: Nicole Holofcener (screenplay) and Jeff Whitty (screenplay)

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells

By Tom Moore

With awards season in full swing and director Marielle Heller’s newest film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” being a big name in all the awards buzz, it’s the perfect time to look back to last year when she brought the story of author Lee Israel to life with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”.

There wasn’t a film that I backed as hard last year to win any and every award possible as much as this film because I truly think it’s perfect. It tells the fascinating and true story of Israel (Melissa McCarthy) falling out of touch with the modern world of literature and turning her talent for being factual into a forgery. With every letter that’s forged, and the deeper Israel goes down the rabbit hole, it’s easy to find yourself more and more invested into her story – and it’s not just because it’s so thrilling. Israel’s story is incredibly relatable of someone simply seeking approval from those around her and ending up finding self-approval. However, it’s not just that simple as the incredible performance from McCarthy and a delightfully witty script from Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on the autobiography written by Israel, elevate it to a more meaningful level.

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

What She Said:

As our lead and reject of the American dream, Melissa McCarthy is astounding. This is easily her best dramatic role to date.

Deirdre Molumby,
Twittter: @deirdremolumby

The way that Israel’s crass and sarcastic attitude is shown on-screen is so special because women generally aren’t shown this way. When women are shown to be mean or a little sarcastic, they’re met with labels like “spinster” and “wicked” and are considered unlikable – but that’s not what happens here. In some ways, Israel’s cynicism is what makes her so strong and something that I really liked about her. Her attitude is understandable considering how everyone doubts her, including her publisher, and it’s something that makes the script and McCarthy so damn funny. The swiftness of McCarthy’s line delivery almost feels cathartic at times because of how natural she makes it come off and it’s a kind of humour that she doesn’t generally do and that she should do more of.

forgive me
Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Dark wit isn’t the only thing that McCarthy brings to Israel, though, as she brings a sense of genuineness to Israel’s personal issues. Her loneliness feels real with her really only having her cat, Jersey, and any bottle of alcohol by her side and there’s this determination to find the greatness that’s admirable and easy to connect to. Throughout the film, you can even feel Israel’s issues with trust in people with how her publisher abandons her and how her old acquaintance Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) totally betrays her after earning her trust. All of this weaves together to create an emotional narrative that showcases Israel’s discovery of her own talents – which comes in the form of one of the strongest monologues in quite some time.

What She Said:

Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel transforms from comedy queen to dramatic actress. McCarthy is gifted. Period. Richard E. Grant as Israel’s partner in crime (literally) Jack Hock is charming and never delivers a dull moment.

Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic

The final speech that Israel gives towards the end of the film of her being proud of what she did because it’s simply the best writing she’s done in her life is not only my favourite part of the film, but it’s what makes her story so meaningful. Sure, maybe her choices weren’t the most ethical, but it’s these choices that lead her to find her own worth as a writer and it’s the kind of story that’s truly timeless and relatable to anyone in a funk. It’s a capstone to McCarthy’s incredible performance and made her a more than worthy awards contender.

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

When talking about “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, it’s impossible not to talk about the stellar supporting performance from Grant. As Israel’s friend and partner in crime, Grant carries the same kind of wit and genuine charm that McCarthy does to create another story that’s kind of tragic. With Hock, there’s almost this complex relationship viewers have with him that mirrors the kind of friendship that Israel has. With every moment that Hock comes to Israel’s aide, there’s also a moment where his selfish and slightly chaotic nature comes out to make you feel a little disappointed in him, but still want the best for him. He never makes Hock your archetypal villain and more of a realistic friend you encounter that gives you the kind of ups and downs in your life that makes them special.

What She Said:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the buddy comedy nobody knew they wanted. It is charming, understated and in parts utterly heartbreaking.

Linda Marric, The Jewish Chronicle
Twitter: @Linda_Marric

There wasn’t a snub last year more obvious than this and thinking about the film again only makes it more award-worthy in my mind. While it was nice to see Olivia Coleman winning for Best Actress, McCarthy was definitely robbed of an Oscar alongside Grant and to see that Heller wasn’t even nominated for directing is a total crime in itself. Heller gives such strong direction in bringing out such genuine emotion in Israel’s story, not to mention navigating through the gorgeous set design from Sarah E. McMillan, that I can’t see how she didn’t make the final nominations list. Thankfully, though, I won’t let a day go by without acknowledging the sheer brilliance of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” that would make Israel proud. It’s a more worthy addition to our Best of the Decade list and a film that can’t recommend enough.

P.S. Heller’s got the kind of directing talent in bringing pure heart out of real-life stories that she’s definitely a top name to watch for awards in the future – except for the Golden Globes.


5 stars

The Extra Bits:

Where to watch:

Amazon: Buy

Google Play: Buy

iTunes: Buy

Who to follow:

Official Twitter @cyefm

Melissa McCarthy @melissamccarthy

Richard E. Grant @RichardEGrant


3 thoughts on “ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No.6: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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