Review: Melissa McCarthy in Something Non-Comedic? Her Performance in 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' Is Mind Blowing

Isabelle Braun ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
No piece of literary writing will be looked at the same way since Lee Israel’s deception. The journalist turned author made national news among the literary collector community when the FBI arrested her for forging over 400 letters from famous individuals such as Dorothy Parker and Louise Brooks. After Israel was put on house arrest with added probation, she wrote her memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me? This book recounts detailed descriptions of Lee Israel’s two-year deception of forgeries before a dealer turned her into the FBI. The memoir not only gained readers attention but Hollywood’s as well.
Just four years after Israel’s death, Can You Ever Forgive Me? made its way to the big screen. Earlier in the fall, the movie received widespread acclaim from critics and film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival. This movie is a big hit among the public, bringing major press to up-and-coming director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty.

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Lee Israel’s character in the film was played by Melissa McCarthy, an actress who typically stays in the more comedic genre. The audience can see that Israel’s character is one that is difficult to recapture as she really only seems to be made up of anger. However, McCarthy perfectly delivers a well-rounded persona by the end of the film. Israel’s contemplation is clearly seen in McCarthy’s face as she stares at the real Dorothy Parker note; the hesitation is felt as McCarthy’s hand hovers just above the shelf; the nervousness when the aged paper crinkles as it is rolled into the typewriter and the fingers nervously begin to type; the excitement when the character leaves the bookstore with a wad of cash in her pocket. These particular scenes throughout the movie give the audience insight as to what Israel was feeling at the time.
McCarthy’s ability to switch into almost a completely different person is almost comical when interacting with co-star Richard E. Grant. Grant plays Israel’s loyal friend and partner in crime Jack, an older drug dealer and user who helps Israel in selling her forgeries. This friendship is one of the staple pieces of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and requires great control on McCarthy’s part. The natural chemistry translates easily onto the screen as the audience witnesses the easy, joking banter between the two characters. Grant is able to reveal McCarthy’s natural smile and laugh as they play jokes on store owners and neighbors while at the same time appearing to be very much drunk without taking a sip of alcohol. The audience learns about Israel’s insecurities and her struggle of being a lesbian only when the two characters are together. However, Grant’s ability does not disrupt McCarthy’s control of her character at all.
Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
During one of the more emotional and touching scenes between the two characters, McCarthy easily slides Israel’s anger-filled mask back into place to show the once again dominate cold side. The natural chemistry between the two actors enhances the friendship of the individuals in the story, but it does not affect McCarthy’s incredible portrayal of Lee Israel.
The acting within Can You Ever Forgive Me? really brings the characters to life on screen. If director Marielle Heller chose anyone else besides McCarthy and Grant, the movie would have been told in a very different way. Despite these actors specializing in different genres, there was no other perfect roles than Lee Israel and Jack.
Overall Grade: A
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