Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a low-key comedy drama based on on the true life story of writer and forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) who specialised in selling fraudulent letters ostensibly written by celebrities.
It starts by setting up Israel’s life as a writer as one of alcohol abuse, creative frustration and financial hardship. She meets drug dealer Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a fellow lost soul, and begins a boozy, prank-filled friendship with him. Desperate for money, she sells a cherished letter from Katharine Hepburn, the subject of one of her biographies. When she makes a little extra by adding a saucy postscript to an otherwise bland letter from Fanny Brice, she she decides to go the whole hog and forge entire letters from Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and other luminaries.
Israel finds some fulfillment in passing herself off as people more famous and successful then herself, but when she’s blacklisted by collectors she turns to stealing genuine letters from archives. The story kicks up a notch when things are complicated by the criminal nature of her activities and Jack’s foibles as a fence and housesitter.
McCarthy is genuinely good here, playing someone quite convincingly unlikeable without any of her usual “comedic” tics. The film is entertaining and unfolds without gimmicks at a natural pace, thanks no doubt to the involvement of writer Nicole Holofcener, but also to some elegant direction by Marielle Heller, whose capturing of period and location is understated and charming.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is released in Australia by 20th Century Fox on DVD (no local Blu-ray release, sadly). Picture quality is as good as DVD gets, and the soundtrack is in nicely ambient 5.1 surround with some satisfyingly dynamic moments from the score. Extras include some deleted scenes, promotional featurettes, a commentary track with McCarthy and Heller, a picture gallery (including some of the forged letters) and a theatrical trailer.