Melissa McCarthy steps away from her comedic comfort zone into something a bit more dramatic, and the result is the wonderful, witty and vulnerable true story of Lee Israel.
Lee Israel isn’t a people person, and if she could, she would definitely only deal with her cat. After being at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, she suddenly becomes obsolete. At her local bookstore, she witnesses her esteemed work condemned to the sale section. The interest in her books has passed and she can’t even get a call back from her agent (Jane Curtin). Needless to say, Israel has a few problems. On top of that, her rent is past due and there’s no signal that she’ll get the money to pay that off anytime soon. Despite her pressing situation, she isn’t prompted to do anything about it until her cat is in need of medicine she cannot afford. And for her cat, she’d do anything.
In a desperate attempt to earn a bit of money, Israel sells her beloved letter from Katharine Hepburn that was personally dedicated to her. After she is compensated for her most prized possession, she miraculously finds a letter written by Fanny Brice at the library. She steals it and is able to sell that as well. After learning what content within the letter would result in a better payment, she was able to convincingly mimic their voices to increase the payout she would receive. Thus, just like that Israel almost too easily found her “calling.” She began her journey of crime by forging more celebrity letters from writers such as; Fanny Brice, Dorothy Parker, and Noel Coward. After confiding her secret in her new friend Jack, (Richard Grant), who is a man so eccentric that he is one of the few or only, people who can successfully make Israel smile, he too gets mixed in the scheme of things. He becomes an accomplice to Israel’s illegal actions and tries to sell letters after she is under the eye of suspicion of every bookseller. She was so good at encapsulating the characteristics of the writers she pridefully stated, “I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker.”
Israel is a person that isn’t unfamiliar to the ones we already know, which is why the audience roots for her throughout it all. McCarthy is able to brilliantly portray Lee as neither a hero nor a villain but an all too relatable, sensitive grump. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an entertaining, ludicrous drama, unlike anything McCarthy, has ever done, but she was born to play this role.