Because everything that seems to debut at Telluride is met with overpraise, the raves that met Marielle Heller's low-key but charming "Can You Ever Forgive Me" really don't do justice to its small little pleasures. In essence, this is a character-driven, and slight, film based on a true story which took place in New York City's literary world some twenty odd years ago.
Melissa McCarthy plays author Lee Israel with the panache and memorable flair we are used to seeing her invest in any role she undertakes-- except, in Heller's hands, McCarthy is given a character that is not only nastily hilarious but also darkened by alcoholism and severe pathological tendencies.
The story goes that Israel, down on money with an ill cat and having to find a way to pay its medical bills, decided to forge letters that she falsely claimed legendary authors, such as Dorothy Parker, had written to fellow cohorts. She found a niche market to sell these letters in the NYC literary world, and made thousands of dollars doing so. Of course, the FBI eventually started sniffing around and suspecting there was wrongdoing.
Along with her showstopper role in "Bridesmaids," this is easily McCarthy's best performance, Oscar will come knocking very soon with a nomination. However, I was even more smitten by her co-star Richard E. Grant, playing Israel's conspicuous drunkard sidekick Jack, he is indeed the scene-stealing reason to watch this predictably delivered rise and fall true-life saga. Every line he delivers stings with deadpan laughs, I actually wished there was more Jack and less Lee in this film.
Heller ("The Diary of A Teenage Girl") again showing a great knack for visually intimate drama, hasn't even come close to reaching her artistic peak yet, but you have a sense that it's coming. The screenplay she co-wrote here, with Nicole Holofcener, does its best to smooth around the rough edges that come with this kind of film. You do know where it's headed, but for 2/3 of its running time "Can You Ever Forgive Me" has no reason to be forgiven. [B-]