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Film / Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a 2018 American biographical comedy-drama film directed by Marielle Heller. Written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, it is based on the memoir of the same title written by Leonore Carol "Lee" Israel .

The film stars Melissa McCarthy as Israel, who made her living writing profiles of high-achieving women, but is unable to get her work published due to her preference for subjects that relatively few people are interested in. She then turns to her friend Jack who sells forged letters on her behalf.

The film, which also co-stars Richard E. Grant as Jack, premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, before being released on October 19, 2018.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? provides examples of:

  • The '90s: Set in 1991, to be exact.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: You can put her in dowdy clothes and give her a bad haircut; but there is never any disguising the fact that there is still a pretty Melissa McCarthy underneath all of it.
  • The Alcoholic: Lee and Jack are often seen drinking. It has major consequences for both: perpetual drunkenness contributes to Jack's regular homelessness, while Lee is fired from her desk job for drinking in the office. When Lee is found guilty of forgery, AA meetings become a condition of her parole.
  • Amicable Exes: Defied in the case of Elaine, who'll show up to offer Lee a few words of comfort but finds it too exhausting to be part of her life.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lee avoids prison time and writes a memoir about her experiences, but Jack passes away from AIDS.
  • Can't Take Criticism: This seems to be Lee's biggest flaw.
  • Five-Finger Discount: At a party at her agent's house, Lee is seen taking toilet rolls from the bathroom and on her way out falsely claims another guest's coat as her own. Jack admits to being a shoplifter in the past.
  • Get Out!: Lee to Jack after she returns from Yale to find that Jersey has died while in Jack's care.
  • Historical Domain Character: The arrogant blowhard author that Lee runs into at her agent's party turns out to be Tom Clancy.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Jack calls Lee a forger, she haughtily replies that she's not a forger, she's creating "literary treasures". Jack refrains from pointing out that they're only technically "treasures" because people are willing to pay a lot of money for them because they believe them to be genuine. He simply points out that the people whose letters she is creating didn't actually write them.
    • Also applies in the case of Tom Clancy, who at the party in the beginning of the film is preening himself on all the work he puts into his writing, when in real life Tom Clancy regularly relied on other people doing his research for him.
  • Karma Houdini: The unscrupulous buyer who blackmails Lee is never punished even though he too sold multiple letters he knew to be forgeries.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Lee really, really cares about her cat Jersey, though "kind-hearted" is only just barely applicable.
  • Master Forger: Lee Israel is a struggling biographer who takes to forging letters by famous writers and actors in order to make a quick buck, filling them with salacious personal details to drive up the price. She and her partner in crime, Jack Hock, even steal and sell original letters from libraries and archives, leaving behind forged duplicates. The film is based on the confessional memoir of the author Lee Israel, who sold over 400 forged or stolen letters in the space of two years.
  • No Social Skills: Lee, full stop. She just can't help but be rude to people that she really can't afford to be rude to, leading to the complete destruction of her career and driving away almost all of her friends and loved ones by the start of the movie.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lee (and Jack who just happens to be there) when she receives a voice message from Paul asking her to come in to discuss something important about her Noel Coward letter. Lee is right to be worried when Paul informs Lee that the contents of Coward letter are not only questionable, but she has been placed on a list informing people not to buy from her anymore.
  • Prank Call: Lee and Jack are seen prank calling her ex-girlfriend, her literary agent and the secondhand bookshop manager who refused to buy her books at the start of the film.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Lee finds herself on the end of a few of these. Marjorie, her literary agent, flat out tells Lee that her unpleasant personality and unwillingness to write her own stories are the reasons Lee's writing career is in the toilet.
      Marjorie: You can be an asshole if you’re famous. You can’t be unknown and be such a bitch, Lee.
    • Elaine gives Lee a more polite one, explaining to her how her unwillingness to open up emotionally is the reason their relationship didn't work.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Jack is almost certainly HIV positive from his first appearance in the film. By the end he is clearly showing the effects of the disease.
  • Trash of the Titans: Lee's apartment is so messy that she has a fly infestation problem. When an exterminator comes to inspect it, he refuses to enter due to the smell coming from inside. To his horror, Jack discovers during the subsequent clean-up that Jersey has been using the floor under Lee's bed as a toilet.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Set early in The '90s, in some ways it shows a markedly different world. Lee's scheme wouldn't have occurred to her if she hadn't already been using a manual typewriter. Pay phones are also much more common than they are now.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Lee clearly is attracted to Anna but holds back from saying anything due to her fears of rejection and of her forgeries being discovered. It's left ambiguous whether Anna reciprocates these feelings or merely admires Lee as a writer; when she calls herself and Lee "friends" and Lee corrects her to "Drinking buddies", she looks hurt.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Lee and Jack.