Can You Ever Forgive Me? – review
by Miranda Johnson
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a captivating, fact-based film detailing the exploits of Lee Israel, a struggling writer who, at the age of 51, is reluctant to give in to the gimmicks and marketing-ploys of the industry which she feels discredit true artistic merit. Accordingly, she finds a more reliable source of income in forging and then selling literary artefacts.
The film has a rather despairing, yet atmospheric, opening as Lee, played by Melissa McCarthy, struggles through the bleak, New York City winter. After the last biography, she has written flops, and she loses her equally bleak office job, Lee succumbs to her alcoholic tendencies. Disheartened and alone, she comes across the vaguely familiar Jack Hock. Jack, played by Richard E. Grant, offers a sharp contrast to the previously melancholic feeling as his outrageously eccentric and flamboyant, yet charming, nature brings out Lee’s more fiery side. As a self-described ‘renegade’, Jack’s sure-fire volatile streak and overflowing charisma really set the ball rolling for Lee as she soon involves Jack in her originally solo-venture into forgery.
The dark, dusty bars and shops frequented by the pair are immensely evocative of the early 1990s as well as enhancing the overall melancholic yet roguish feeling of the film. Plot-wise it is not particularly action-packed, and at times even uneventful, but tells Lee’s story in a very revealing way as both the key characters’ vulnerabilities are explored deeply which keeps viewers watching intently. Without revealing too much, the relationship between Lee and Jack was, in my opinion, the most enthralling aspect. As far as two people go, at surface level, Jack and Lee appear to be the absolute opposite of one another – despite both being gay, single and in their 50s. However, as the plot unravels, their undeniable similarities become apparent - both social outcasts who find a beautiful refuge in one another’s company and friendship. After an initially prickly reception from Lee upon their first meeting, the relationship of the two quickly develops, sparked by their undeniable chemistry. The way that the film highlights the contrasting ways in which they express their loneliness is ingenious and captivating to watch.
All in all, the film is one about friendship, vulnerability and the realisation that dreams may never materialise – at least not in the way in which we might expect. It is both terribly heartbreaking yet spirited as Jack and Lee’s mischievous chemistry carries hope through an otherwise devastating story. Despite the sadness which prevails through the film, the glimmer of hope offered by their relationship shapes my lasting impression.