By RANDAL C. HILL
Attention Melissa McCarthy fans:
You’re going to have to look elsewhere if you’re expecting another
lighthearted comedy such as Life of the Party or Identity Thief. On October 19th, Fox Searchlight Pictures will be unveiling Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the wacky but downbeat true tale of Lee Israel, at one time a best-selling author.
Here the comic superstar, all but unrecognizable with short hair and glasses, stars as Israel. And did we
say that Ms. McCarthy offers a performance possibly worthy of a certain little gold statue next year?
After writing successful celebrity bios of actresses Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, cosmetics queen Estee Lauder and journalist/TV game-show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen during the 1970s and 1980s,
Israel finds herself out of favor with current tastes. So much so, that even her agent declares, “Nobody’s going to pay for the writer Lee Israel right now.” Israel is even encouraged to look into some other line of work after her latest book ends up on the dreaded bookstore discount table.
Israel inevitably falls on such hard times that, by the early 1990s, she’s having trouble scraping together rent money or funds to help her ailing cat. Toss in a growing alcohol problem, and you’ve got a perfect storm of issues that finds the
writer turning to a drinking buddy named Jack (Richard E. Grant) for comfort and encouragement.
Israel soon discovers—and nurtures—a cash cow in the selling of letters from deceased famous folks, starting with the legendary Fanny Brice. The only
problem? Israel is forging the items. Driven like an addict desperate for his or her next fix, she ends up stealing documents from archives and libraries, copies
of which she replaces with forgeries.
As a dramatic actress, the surprisingly able McCarthy turns in a performance that should cause even her harshest critics to reconsider their outlook.
The supporting cast includes McCarthy’s real-life husband Ben Falcone, Anna Deavere Smith (last seen in 2008’s Rachel Getting Married) and, emerging from the shadow of Saturday Night Live, Jane Curtin.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a biographical drama film directed by Marielle Heller and written by screenwriting partners Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty; it’s based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name.
The story picks up in 1991, when the stumbling author is 52 years old. McCarthy, who’s 47, has no qualms about portraying an older character. “I’ve never
minded getting older,” she claims. “The older you are, the more interesting you are as a character.”