The movie “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is based on the true story of one Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids), as the best-selling celebrity biographer, who made her living in the 1970s and 80s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estée Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen.
When Lee finds herself unable to get published because she had fallen out of step with the marketplace, she turns her art form to deception ie making oodles off literary forging, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E Grant).
Villain who is lonely and down on her luck
However, beneath Israel’s felonious capers lies a more personal story – that of a lonely, cat-loving, hard-boozing outcast whose life grew more exciting with every person she tricked.
Director Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl) had this to say of her anti-hero female protagonist, “I feel like movies have all these complicated, wonderful male characters who can be very rough-edged and morally ambiguous and we don’t ever question that.
“So, to have a story featuring a woman who is complicated, who is a difficult person, who commits crimes, yet who is also feisty, smart, clever and ambitious, is exciting.”
With regard to her role, McCarthy said, “I have become so attached to Lee that I just want people to see her for everything she was: for her talent, her intelligence, her caustic, remarkable wit and to also see her difficult circumstances, her flaws, her broken heart, her anger. I want people to love her as much as I do.”
McCarthy also acknowledges she is nothing like Israel, but that only increased her drive to understand her antisocial ways.
“Lee was always in her own head and very no-nonsense and I found that really interesting to explore because I don’t get to be that in my life.
“There’s something about how she kind of barrels through her life, even if it’s a bit of a front, that was compelling to me.”
Love-hate relationship that works
Also, in the spotlight is Grant (Dracula), a gay friend and accomplice of Israel’s (who is lesbian).
Grant says he likened Jack’s character to the personality of a Labrador Retriever, with the constant assumption that he can go up to anybody and get them to like him.
“But he’s also sometimes kicked-about and he’s lonely. He was a coke dealer and probably a kleptomaniac, banned from Duane Reade drugstore for shoplifting.
“But when he falls in with Lee Israel, they develop this very unusual love-hate relationship, which seemed to me to be the core of the story,” Grant explains.
“Despite Lee’s curmudgeonly ways, they actually get on together, partly because he just insists on it.”
The film’s supporting characters include Anna (Dolly Wells), Marjorie (Jane Curtin), Alan Schmidt (Ben Falcone) and Elaine (Anna Deveare Smith).
These colourful cast of characters are just a few of the many who will fall victim to Israel’s flawless forgeries.
Her scheme however eventually catches the attention of the authorities. With eyes turning on her, she recruits an accomplice with whom she will have to learn to share her life with.
Rated R, the runtime of this film is at 106 minutes and opens on Feb 28.
Audiences can catch the movie, distributed by 20th Century Fox, at GSC International Screens located at GSC Mid Valley, GSC Pavilion KL and GSC 1 Utama.