Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a whirlwind of beauty and loneliness


Ana Costanzo

By Ana Costanzo

A ballad for loneliness in the city full of opportunity set in the 1990s, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a lens into the deceptive nature of real-life acclaimed celebrity biographer Lee Israel played by Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters). In a chameleon-like performance, McCarthy sheds her humorous nature for a frowning, cat-loving writer: her typewriter her weapon, her wit her armor.

As the film is based on Lee Israel’s autobiography Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, McCarthy had the material to transform into the bitter and unapproachable Israel. And she certainly disappeared into her character. Underneath the menswear clothing Israel prefers wearing, McCarthy is nowhere to be found. Replacing her loud humor is an unapproachable and sarcastic woman whose only friend is her cat Jersey and homeless queer friend Jack (Robert E. Grant in his best starring performance yet); but even then, it takes Israel time to somewhat trust her bread eating and baby blue-eyed friend.

From the very opening scene of the film, director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) lovingly captures New York City as the opening song is playful and reminds the audience of the 1950s. But as Lee Israel walks in her trousers and blazer down the street, the opening song then turns into a heartbreaking recollection of loneliness. With this song portraying the loneliness of a woman down on her luck in the literary world, the film truly reveals itself to me and unclouded my eyes from the prospect that New York City welcomes all. Instead, only the elites of society are allowed to flourish in this city of “opportunity,” and for a while, Israel is accomplishing this with her biographies of Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Estee Lauder. However, when her career slips away, readers and Israel’s agent no longer wanting Israel’s biographies, but more personal stories, Israel realizes she is not ready for that. And so begins her desperate spiral for money to afford her apartment and medicine for her aging cat.

As her life then spirals downward, McCarthy creates such a depth for her character that we laugh with her, are proud when she deceives the bookstore clerks, but most of all, we feel her loneliness. McCarthy’s portrayal of loneliness in a city so brilliant and dazzling and full of literary writers is incredibly tragic, but watching her transform into this sort of character is such a reward.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is not to be overlooked, especially not with its rating of 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The Academy Awards is certainly not overlooking the film as it is gaining some Oscar buzz, most notably for McCarthy (Academy Award for Best Actress), Grant (Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), writers Holofcener and Whitty’s script (Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay), and Heller’s directing (Academy Award for Best Director). Of course, all this is speculation, but the film is deserving of all this buzz for Oscar nominations.

Though this film took a while to finally find its way to Virginia Beach, this indie gem certainly is one to buy tickets for. And if you don’t, well, I may not be able to forgive you.