Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

“Name your price.”

Some people are more willing to put in the extra effort to cheat than they are to do a little bit of hard work. That tends to be the case more often than not in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the flat and insipid biopic of the late literary con artist Lee Israel. The film has no wit, no bite, no sense of retribution, and it is by far the most disappointing picture I’ve seen this year. I’d rather be put to sleep by something that bores me than be kept awake from swells of anger and frustration, which CYEFM? filled me with for nearly two hours. What an unremarkable movie and what a massive letdown. How do you make a movie about a literary pirate so lacking in authorship and personality?

Nobody wants to read Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy). Her recently published biography was a major flop, and with financial instability mounting, she’s driven to the drink in order to drown out her frustrating writer’s block. A string of critical and commercial failures cause her publisher’s refusal to front her anymore money, leading to Lee’s pawning off of old treasures to make ends meet. Old letters and what not. During some research for a new novel, she stumbles upon a letter written by Fanny Brice, eventually deciding to spice it up a tad. In CYEFM?, there’s no such think as an honest living. You make a buck any which way you can if you’re desperate enough.

Lee’s journey into criminal forgery proves to be quite lucrative for the time being, at least until she embellishes her way onto the blacklist of the buyers and collectors. That’s where Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) saunters into the foray. As Lee’s new bar fly best friend, Jack agrees to do the selling for her and split the profits. I found the film rather tedious and superficial, telling its story through on-the-nose dialogue and forced drama, but there’s great chemistry between McCarthy and Grant as the movie’s mainstay odd-couple. Their performances belong in a deeper, more introspective endeavor. The writer’s block is real with this one.

Besides Anna (Dolly Wells), a quiet book seller with an intimate interest in Lee, CYEFM? really only revolves around two people (and of course McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone has to play a small part…it’s a predictable moment in a predictable film). Playing to the tune of a mawkish score, a script disinterested with the gravity of its serious actions, and two genuinely unsympathetic leading characters, the easy answer to the title of this film from Marielle Heller (who deserves better material than this to work from) is an easy and dismayed shake of the head. Can You Ever Forgive Me? asks us a straightforward yes or no question, whereas something like Spielberg’s similar yet vastly superior 2002 film Catch Me If You Can teases us into joining the chase. In certain situations it can be better to speak before being called on, forgetting about raising your hand in the first place and just getting to the damn point.

“I was just supposed to be something more than this.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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