Monday, February 11, 2019
OSCARS 2019: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
changing things up with a serious performance is also a commonly employed exercise. 2019 brings its fair share of biopics and true stories. Melissa McCarthy previously received an Oscar nomination for “Bridemaids” but, after appearing in a number of increasingly dire comedies, decided to shift towards drama with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” While all of this sounds horribly trite, the movie is apparently actually pretty good.
McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, a professional biographer who has fallen on hard times. Lee is drinking too much, writing too little, and unable to convince her agent about the Fanny Brice biography she's currently working on. Desperate, largely because her beloved cat is sick, Lee sells some personal letters from famous figures she's come across. Realizing you can make some quick cash this way, and that a more interesting letter is worth more, Lee starts to forge letters from people like Noel Coward or Dorothy Parker. Lee makes a friend, in the form of hopeless hustler Jack Hock, and things actually work out okay for a while. Until the FBI gets a whiff of Lee's forgery business, forcing her to even more desperate measures.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is also, surprisingly and delightfully, a film that argues for the value of pastiche. When Lee tries to sell one of the genuine letters she comes across, the dealer tells her the subject matter is boring. After spicing the letter up with her forged post-script, its value goes way up. What Lee does is a crime, though pretty small potatoes by most measures. Yet there's value in her work as well, in so accurately capturing the wit and wisdom of another voice. This concept – that imitation is art itself, that it can even be better than the real thing – is gracefully conceived in the film's funny and poignant final scene.
As good as McCarthy is, and she's really good, another performer outshines her. Richard E. Grant has been playing scoundrels and rebels his entire career. With Jack Hock, Grant aligns all those qualities into one character. Grant brings an amazingly acerbic wit to the part, as Hock always has a witty comeback or crude one-liner up his sleeve. He especially love committing acts of mischief. He's also a chronic screw-up, spending what little money he has on drugs, booze, and rent boys. As pathetic as Jack may be, Grant never allows the character to be played as a sad queer character. Instead, he's a deeply flawed human, with as many good qualities as troubling ones. Grant's incredible command of humor and spirited performance will, if there's justice in the world, make him an Oscar winner.