Lee Israel (McCarthy) made her living in the 1970's and 80's profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, forging and selling celebrity letters to specialists for their high end clients at ridiculous prices. Aided and abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E Grant) the pair swindle their way around the New York high end bookshops pedalling their forgeries for as much as they can.
The world of ‘celebrity letters’ was something I was completely unaware of. In particular the price of such items was a total eye opener to how much people will pay for what they believe to be unique piece of memorabilia. The question of forgiveness is not simply a title, it is a question being asked of the audience as we, the man/woman in the street are the victims of this seemingly insignificant crime being committed. This is not a defence of forgery by any means but I found myself unable to connect to this world in any meaningful way making the question of whether Lee Israel was deserving of forgiveness a difficult one to answer.
Most crime dramas have an element of tension, a feeling of pursuit, an idea of who the victim is or the gentle persuasion into rooting for the criminals over the forces of law and order. In truth I felt none of these elements while watching Can You Ever Forgive Me. There was no tension, no sense of pursuit (the FBI give the impression this a small end crime in their world) and my desire for Lee and Jack to succeed was middling at best. This almost fells like a victimless crime, those that do buy are never onscreen leaving the store owners as the victim but this is a grey area too as some are portrayed as being mildly complicit themselves in never being 100% sure their goods are legitimate.
Praise must be given however to those in charge of casting for this film as both McCarthy and Grant appear to be having a great time together and have a lovely onscreen chemistry. The barbs and jabs fly between the pair balanced with great affection and mild venom that are trademarks of both these actors.
All in all Can You Ever Forgive Me is a very middle of the road cinematic experience. It neither offends nor excites. A jazz inflected, whimsical soundtrack similar to those found in the Woody Allen back catalogue add brevity and shots of New York streets gave me a mild dose of wanderlust. However, without these stars in such fine form I couldn’t ignore my feeling that this would be a very dull night out at the cinema.
There are many glowing reviews of this film, its stars and award nominations have been given but Was surprised that it garnered very little reaction from me. Perhaps it should be me asking the question, can you ever forgive me for falling so far out of step with those around me? Perhaps a second watch would convince me that I hadn’t been defrauded out of my time and this film is the real thing, on initial inspection I’m left unconvinced of its authenticity.
Can You Ever Forgive Me is on general release from the 1st February 2019.