Rated R for a lot of stuff. Lee is a pretty grumpy person. When she's grumpy, she swears a lot. She drinks. She doesn't do drugs, but her friend, Jack, does all of the drugs and drinks all of the booze. She's involved in criminal activity. Jack is pretty sexually forward and eventually contracts HIV because of his sexual activity. Also, Lee is a criminal. This movie is about her being a criminal. It's rated R. I'm good with that.
DIRECTOR: Marielle Heller
Two years in a row now! Two years in a row. The Academy ignores a perfectly great movie for Best Picture when a lot of the movies that are actually kind of duds get by. Last year, it was I, Tonya. I discovered these movies because they were both up for Best Actress. But both of those movies were absolutely phenomenal. Considering how much I actually really enjoy the Academy Awards, I do know that a lot of the appeal for these movies is the marketing push. It's not necessarily the Best Picture. It's how much money greases palms with amazing For Your Consideration packages. I can see this one not having the media blitz behind it, which is really a shame because I absolutely adored it.
All that being said, Melissa McCarthy killed it. Absolutely killed it. I know that I'm losing my mind over this movie and I want everyone to see it, which makes for absolutely terrible writing. Trust me, I'm about to lose all my steam and I'm going to stare at my screen for an unhealthy amount of time. I may end up getting lost on Facebook for a really long time or I'll write half of it to only come back to it later. But Can You Ever Forgive Me? hits all of the right buttons for me. I don't know the real story. I know that the film was based on Lee Israel's memoirs about the crime she perpetrated, so I'd like to believe that it is mostly true. I know that Israel's book itself may be questionable considering that she's known for being a writer who is good at punching up the truth. That's the very center of the story. (The soundtrack isn't helping me write, by the way. Too many words.) But Can You Forgive Me? is the right amount of investment that I was ready for. I just realized that there's another connection to I, Tonya that I didn't realize. (I need to rewatch that movie someday.) Both of these films are about women getting caught up in something that they thought was small and harmless until it escalated into something absolutely huge. They both knew that they were criminals, but they also got the short end of the stick from time to time. I suppose that Tonya Harding, oddly enough, would prove to be much more sympathetic by the end of the film, I suppose. But Lee Israel seems to be the unfortunate victim of my life philosophy. I am part of that idealistic class of people who says that you should just write and create for the sake of creating. Write about what you love and people will find you. I mean, I've been writing this for three years and I'm convinced that most of my readers are bots or people who find the two spaces after the period hideous. (Take that. It's three spaces. Boom.) There was this weird moment when I was watching the film that I oddly felt jealous of Lee Israel's life. I wasn't supposed to be jealous of it. Not in the least. The movie paints her out to be completely tragic. She lives alone in an apartment in New York. She is living in squalor. Nobody loves her, let alone likes her. Apparently, her apartment stinks because she's kind of a hoarder and refuses to clean up after her pet. But then she was also a published author. The reason that she's living in squalor is that she keeps writing about what she loves. She picks these subject matters that she absolutely obsesses over. She writes them beautifully, which no one really denies. The only problem is that no one cares about the topics on which she writes. I. Can. Relate. Despite my extreme stream of consciousness style of writing, I'm told that I'm very readable. But between my wealth of output and the fact that I write for free, I'm not certain if anyone is actually reading. I'm reminded by my more tech savvy friends that most of my counter hits are probably bots. Yay. But part of the film is about Lee Israel both giving up her soul and also changing it.
The movie never paints her as a good person. I don't think that Israel herself ever wanted to paint herself in that light. If the book is anything like the film, Israel prides herself on her caustic personality. She likes kind of being a mean ol' coot. But there's this moment in the film where she sells her soul. Melissa McCarthy, you deserve so much for this moment. She wants to write about what she wants to write about, but no one cares because she has burned oh-so-many bridges getting to that point in her life. But when she has to sell her prized letter, she has this epiphany that the dream was a waste. There's this absolute low point for the character. She does it for a blip of altruism --saving her cat --but isn't really happy. It's when she crosses that line into forgery that something interesting happens. I kind of want to analyze the film a little bit here because there might be two very different interpretations. I think, oddly enough, that both of them might have some degree of validity. Israel stops becoming the author she wanted to be. She doesn't write about other people. But she gets a sense of validity from writing like other people. I love that she had this unique gift for being able to mimic the voice of any legendary writer. I always wondered why someone didn't continue the work of the Beatles after they broke up. Mainly, because it is remarkably hard to do. So Israel gets this odd celebrity without the celebrity element behind it. People are finally reading and appreciating her work. She gets paid regularly and in large amounts. Honestly, it's the perfect level of celebrity because she can continue to lead a normal lifestyle without people hounding her, but she constantly receives affirmation for the works she is producing. In a sense, people are saying that she is as talented as any of the greats that she mimics and that's pretty satisfying. So is she fulfilling the need that she has inside of her or is she simply selling out? I know that this is a blog. I have been dropping hints that, when I die, I want this blog edited and published into a book that people can add to their film libraries. The theme would be "the movies that Tim watched in these three years", leading little to be cohesive about the whole thing. But I want something published before I die. I want to receive tiny little royalty checks for spending an hour a day writing. But maybe this is a story about dreams changing. The way she talks about what she did is specifically stated that she has no regrets about doing that. She seems actually pretty proud of her work. It's oddly both understandable and pathetic at the same time. If you really wanted to look at her work, it could be considered short fiction. I mean, these are real short fiction. I love mimicking styles for Secret Santa projects I create yearly. I get a kick out of mirroring aesthetics and font and kerning. It's a blast. Unironically, I have a really good time doing it if it wasn't so stressful. Maybe the message is that people should do what makes them happy. But Lee Israel is the criminal in this story. She establishes this as such. She alienates those people around her, including the woman she seems to like. What she is doing throughout is a crime and that's so complicated. But I like complicated. That's the movie I like, so I'm not apologizing for it.
Jack Hock's story is pretty great, but I do want to comment on Richard E. Grant's nomination before I go on. He's fine in this. In fact, he's better than fine. He fits that role of Jack Hock absolutely perfectly. I just am not all that impressed for one reason: Withnail & I. It's the same role. Like, it's the exact same role. That's why he was cast here. I like Richard E. Grant. He's one of the fifteen British actors, which means he was on Doctor Who. That character adds so much to the story. Lee Israel, as a hermit, needs to have a sounding board and Jack Hock is this cool, walking / talking cautionary tale that works so well for the story. I find him absolutely fantastic. Oddly enough, like Israel, Hock is a oddly forgivable character. I mean, he's terrible. If I met him in real life, I would do everything I could to surgically remove him from my surroundings. But for the sake of Israel, it brings a lot out of her. Hock and Israel diffuse each other's morality for both better and worse. Israel, toxic in her own right, becomes borderline saintly compared to Hock's party attitude. Hock brings her down. But Hock also provides Israel opportunities for self-sacrifice. She honestly likes this guy. She sees through his lies and, while never trying to rehabilitate him, takes care of him. I don't know if it is a kindred spirit kind of thing, but she gleams onto him and they become oddly symbiotic. Hock, for all his misdeeds, somehow leaves the film as kind of the victim of the events. I mean, Grant's Jack Hock completely messes up everything. Any one of his mistakes could be described as unforgivable in this reality. There's one moment where he screws up so bad that Israel views him as a burden and a waste of space. But I honestly think I would have quit on him way before that moment. I don't know how he becomes the sympathetic victim at the end. If you say, "It's the HIV", you're missing the point. The HIV is oddly an afterthought of the story. It probably reflected the reality of the situation that needed and should have been included in the film. But HIV is part of the epilogue. It's not like Israel knew Hock during his HIV days and that's why she took him in. Quite the opposite. Hock always seems confident for much of their relationship. But he does these things, not out of malice, but out of addiction. That's probably what makes him sympathetic. He is an addict. He's an annoying addict, but he never means to screw up. It's just that much of his life is either survival or looking to get high. It's the zebra and its stripes. Because Israel never has the gumption to change him or wants him to change, we kind of want to see her understand that she can't have Hock both ways. He can't be this good-time-Charley (I've written this term too many times) and a responsible partner-in-crime. When Hock drops the ball, we feel bad for him because it was like leaving a child in charge of a kitchen that was on fire. Of course he can't fix the problem and that leaves the film with a proper come-uppens. I'm just surprised by how meager the punishment was. If I didn't have a whole moral code and a high horse, I think I'd like to have her sentence. It seems peaceful and all I could really do was write. Geez, that sounds like heaven.
The film is pretty straightforward. I don't know why this appeals to me. I usually like for a director to take risks with the presentation of the film. I want something brain-breaky, but Can You Forgive Me? doesn't really call for it. I think that the story is so interesting and unheard of, that the movie can really stand on its own two legs without having a gimmick to play off of. I tried starting a lot of conversations around this movie, mostly without success. But when I tell the two line summary of the film, people haven't heard anything of it. But the premise works so well. Why I'm impressed with McCarthy's performance is that she didn't need to be as good as she was. She really got into the part and I want to see her win. Like, again, she's not going to. Oddly enough, I'm not writing off Richard E. Grant because this might appeal to lots of other people. But the film is just a movie about a very specific kind of con artist. But I got so much from McCarthy. I know that I can't be the only one throwing this theory around, but I love when comedians become dramatic actors. I think I only like the inverse if it is for one film. But think about Jim Carrey's dramatic roles. Same thing with Steve Carrell. Melissa McCarthy is a phenomenal comedic actress. Her improv on films is often the best part. (I'm fairly certain that there's a little bit of that in Can You Ever Forgive Me?) But she adds so much pathos to this fairly unlikable character that I don't know how I feel afterwards. I oddly rooted for her, despite the fact that her actions and her personality are despicable. She's just that good. The movie as a whole is wonderful and some of those other more generic films should get the boot for this smaller picture. Smaller pictures have value. It's so funny that the FBI gets involved in her crime because the scope of this picture is tiny, but I managed to really get invested in the weight that was upon Lee Israel's shoulders. That's the sign of a fantastic performance and I absolutely adored this movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.