There are stories you know well that get remade countless times on screen – D-Day, for instance – and which are inevitably based on character development, on finding an angle to explore. Often these get bogged down in their own intellectual up-their-own-arse-manship. It’s a brave director, therefore who has a story with an intriguing and relatively unknown plot, who prefers to centre on the characters and let the plot plod on, shaping itself to a pretty foregone conclusion.
Now if that’s your cunning plan, you need not one but two… at least two cracking performances.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Is based on the memoir of Lee Israel, a down on her luck New York based writer of biographies. Set at the start of the 1990s she is on the cusp of homelessness when she stumbles on the idea of forging letters of the deceased great and good, especially those famous for their Bon mots (Coward) and caustic put-downs (Dorothy Parker). She forms an unlikely alcohol-fuelled friendship with the promiscuously gay and unlikely named Jack Cock and, well, forges.
She’s not a skilful crook, too egotistical – she thinks her letters are better than those written by the people she’s ripping off – and, basically unpleasant to succeed for long; hell she uses her own name. She takes from those who try and care for her, she undermines Jack the only constant and the only real love she shows for any one is for her cat, Jersey.
Indeed as the story rumbles away in the background, there are a few clunky plot points, like road humps slowing everything down – her final fall from grace (yep, wicked plot spoiler that) begins when her cat dies. Some metaphor.
Yet, I really enjoyed this couple of hours in a warm, slightly fusty box of a cinema – do people take their shoes off in cinemas like they seem to do on aircraft? If not then something unpleasant has died under the carpet in our Picturehouse.
Melissa McCarthy as Lee and Richard E Grant as Jack are fabulous. They put their characters through a whole host of emotions and situations and not once do they let the director, or we viewers, down.
I could watch McCarthy stare at a typewriter for ages and still be surprised at what she comes up with.
It’s not a film that will make you think or reveal some insight. It may not stay with you for long. But while you’re there you will enjoy it. I pretty much can guarantee that.