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Art of fakery

Melissa McCarthy plays a convincing, scheming Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel. Mary Cybulski/Twentieth Century Fox

Art of fakery
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Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a film based on the memoir of late writer Lee Israel, has every hallmark of a modern-day Oscar winner: a female director, a hit comedienne (Melissa McCarthy) turning to a dramatic role, and romantic storylines that will thrill the LGBT community.

Early reviewers gushed about McCarthy’s performance as the ornery, depressed Israel, a struggling biographer who starts forging letters from famous authors for cash. They were right: McCarthy plays Israel with such perfect nuance you can almost smell her bad breath through the screen.

When Israel finds an authentic letter from a subject she is researching and realizes bookstores will pay her good money for it, she starts putting her writing skills to use. She collects old typewriters and begins forging additional letters, creating notes that are more and more intimate, thus commanding higher and higher prices from collectors. (Besides foul language, viewers should note the R-rated film’s romances between homosexual characters. One scene shows a man performing in drag at a nightclub, and another shows two men waking up in bed together.)

If there’s a plot flaw, it’s that the script takes too long to establish Israel’s financial desperation. A full 30 minutes elapses before she gets the idea to forge her first letter, at the expense of time at the movie’s end for us to watch her life turn around.

As with all deception, Israel’s sins escalate, and she gets increasingly passionate about defending her system as the movie goes on. She even convinces herself that the demand for her work justifies the transgression—that the book world actually needs her forgeries, because she’s an even better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker was.

The crazy thing is, we’re almost happy for her, for a while. It’s satisfying at first to see this lost character find a niche for herself in the cutthroat publishing industry. But she’s a writer, not a spy, and she can’t keep her deception going forever. So it’s ultimately more satisfying to watch her reaction to a very gracious sentence from a judge, as well as her conclusion that authenticity—especially between true friends—is everything.

Laura Finch

Laura is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously worked at C-SPAN, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Indiana House, and the Illinois Senate before joining WORLD. Laura resides near Chicago, Ill., with her husband and two children.



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