Based on a true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me? follows alcoholic and struggling writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) as she devises a money-making scheme involving forged letters from famous authors – with Lee’s ongoing escapades eventually assisted by a supportive friend named Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Filmmaker Marielle Heller has infused Can You Ever Forgive Me? with the feel of a deliberately-paced, low-key character study, with McCarthy’s often jaw-droppingly impressive (and thoroughly lived-in) performance going a long way towards capturing and sustaining the viewer’s interest (and it’s clear, too, that the actress’ various costars fare just as well, with, especially, Grant delivering solid supporting work as Lee’s closest confidant). The aforementioned forgery stuff is admittedly pretty interesting, although, as becomes more and more clear, there’s no overlooking the feeling that it’s not quite substantial enough to hang an entire film on – which generally does ensure that Can You Ever Forgive Me? works best as a showcase for McCarthy’s undeniably career-best turn as the seriously flawed protagonist. McCarthy’s consistently stirring efforts ultimately ensure that the picture’s final minutes pack a far more emotional punch than one might’ve expected (and yet the needlessly lighthearted tag that closes the movie is a disappointment), with the end result an erratic yet mostly rewarding drama that benefits substantially from its star’s completely eye-opening performance.
*** out of ****