Combustible Celluloid
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With: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone, Shae D'Lyn, Michael Cyril Creighton, Kevin Carolan, Marc Evan Jackson, Tim Cummings, Christian Navarro, Joanna Adler, Erik LaRay Harvey, Gregory Korostishevsky, Brandon Scott Jones, Mary McCann
Written by: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty, based on a book by Lee Israel
Directed by: Marielle Heller
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use
Running Time: 107
Date: 10/19/2018

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Forgive' Is Divine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) directs this simple, fairly lightweight, but extremely accomplished and satisfying biopic about an episode in the life of non-fiction author Lee Israel. A "two-hander," it centers around two fantastic performances by Melissa McCarthy as the acerbic, disheveled Lee, and by Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock, a penniless, dandyish fellow who becomes her only friend. Unable to get her biography of Fanny Brice off the ground, and unable to pay the vet bills for her sick cat, Lee is stuck for money. She finds an authentic letter inside an old book and sells it to a kind bookshop owner, Anna (a delightful Dolly Wells), making a little money. She hits upon an idea, to create her own fake letters and sell them as real ones. Using her best skills to imitate Brice, Dorothy Parker, and others, and with Jack's support, she pulls off the scheme for a while, until the first of several other shoes drop. Thanks to a layered screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? manages a deft, delicate balance of comedy and drama; you laugh, without quite realizing how deeply you're actually involved. McCarthy and Grant share a savage chemistry, each feeding off of the other's snippy bad behavior. Even performers in the tiniest of roles spring fully to life, including Jane Curtin as Lee's exasperated agent, and Anna Deavere Smith as Lee's former partner.

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