Should’ve Been a Contender: Marielle Heller for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

For this Awards Season we’re looking back at the films, the actors and the directors who should have been a contender for the Oscars. Here’s Bee Garner’s piece on why Marielle Heller should have been nominated for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”.

By Bee Garner

Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is a favourite among the ITOL team, I mean it landed at number 6 on our Top 50 Films of the Decade list for no reason.  And, while Heller made her debut with “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, it is “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” where we see Heller shine as well as prove her capability as a director. It’s also worth mentioning that Heller latest film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is proof that she’s not just a one-hit-wonder. It’s clear that this is a filmmaker that is here to stay.

Despite garnering positive views and also picking up Oscar nominations for Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant and best-adapted screenplay for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Heller was completely ignored by the Academy for Best Director. Fun Fact: Grant’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor Oscar performance of the year was in a film not nominated for Best Picture. I know I may be beating a dead horse here, but one can’t help but suspect that the Academy have a serious issue with nominating female filmmakers and their pictures for the major categories. And, it isn’t like “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is incompetently made. Its near perfect.

In fact, Heller seemed to have been ignored by dozens of awards bodies for her directorial efforts. It’s truly baffling in my personal opinion, as people clearly enjoyed and appreciated the film so much so that the nominated it’s leading actors and its screenplay. Nicole Holofcener was set to direct the film originally, with Julianne Moore starring, however Heller took on the role of director with Holofcener’s blessing. Considering this was here second feature, it was a huge risk to take. A risk that paid off.

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Melissa McCarthy, Dolly Wells, and Marielle Heller in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox

This is a film which hits all the right beats and there is never a dull moment. Heller seems naturally suited for the Biopic genre, and is capable of recreating the world and time that the film is set in. She recreated the visual aesthetic and mood of the 1970s in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, the early 90s in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and most recently the later part of that decade in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”. Heller manages to transport the viewer back to these times with such ease that we become fully immersed in these worlds.

Heller seems naturally suited for the Biopic genre, and is capable of recreating the world and time that the film is set in.

Heller’s films focus on characters who start off isolated and cynical about the world they inhabit. Her three films are very human stories about creating profound long-lasting friendships, with the main characters evolving and venturing outside their sheltered bubbles. In “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Lee Israel (McCarthy) is bitter and angry, as well as being out-of-touch. The world has moved on leaving Israel behind.

Heller manages to give us unique access into Israel’s world and tells us so much about the character through the use of mise-en-scene and doesn’t rely on dialogue or exposition which a less than capable director may have done. By examining the way Israel’s apartment is presented, we know exactly where this individual is at the stage of their life. We can see how lonely and isolated she is and as a result we can understand her motives. Israel is a woman who has been ignored by the society that surrounds her, and as a result she fights for recognition in any form.

McCarthy had this to say about Heller as a director, “Mari is an incredible filmmaker. I don’t think anyone could have done it better.” McCarthy is completely right, Heller is an incredible director and hopefully she will be formally recognised by the Academy.

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

“Can You Forgive Me?” carefully balances comedy and drama, even in the film’s more serious moments there’s an undercurrent of humour. The film works because of the chemistry between McCarthy and Grant, and it was Heller’s decision to cast Grant who is truly well-suited for this role. Both actors deliver strong performances, perhaps even career-best performances. Heller is a former stage director, and shot scenes with long takes, so the actors had to prepared. And, it’s clear that Heller is a great communicator with her talent.

During an interview with Indiewire, McCarthy had this to say about Heller as a director, “Mari is an incredible filmmaker. I don’t think anyone could have done it better.” McCarthy is completely right, Heller is an incredible director and hopefully she will be formally recognised by the Academy.

 

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