Melissa McCarthy’s comedic career has been chameleon-like over the years. From Sookie St James to Sean Spicer, McCarthy has been able to blend into whatever role comes her way. But McCarthy has had a few cinematic flops which have not lived up to her inimitable talent.
As such, Can You Ever Forgive Me may not be the movie everyone expects Melissa McCarthy to make, but it is the one in which she shines.
McCarthy plays the real-life Lee Israel, who made a name for herself as a biographer before falling into obscurity.
But obscurity is not where the American writer would stay.
Israel began forging letters from the biggest names in Hollywood history; from Dorothy Parker to Noël Coward, Eugene O’Neill to Humphrey Bogart.
Can You Ever Forgive Me may take some liberties with the truth, as do most based-on-real-life movies.
Can You Ever Forgive Me: Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel and gives an Oscar-worthy performance
But McCarthy plays each moment with such realistic empathy you never for a moment doubt the genius-cum-desperation that motivated Israel.
The movie hurries along at a pace almost in keeping with McCarthy’s spit-fire dialogue on the famed Gilmore Girls, with Richard E Grant easily keeping up.
The pair has an organic, dramatic, comedic and intimate chemistry that jumps from the screen.
Though Can You Ever Forgive Me has been playing in American cinemas for a while, UK audiences have to wait till February 1 to see it.
Can You Ever Forgive Me: Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant have inimitable onscreen chemistry
And it is a movie worth seeing, not only for the accolades it has already received but for the deep, dark comedy etched into each moment.
“I kept thinking, what would any of us do if we were pushed into that desperate situation?”
Audiences who know McCarthy are used to her exuberant humour, uncontainable and contagious laughter that follows her from role to role.
In Can You Ever Forgive Me, McCarthy trades ebullience for dourness, her humour shifting like tiles in a kaleidoscope; still funny, but vastly different.
As the movie charts Israel’s fall from grace, you feel both empathy and frustration.
In Israel, McCarthy crafts out a complicated, sometimes unlikeable woman.
Unlikability is a trait not often afforded to lead women in film, but McCarthy took that trait, and more, and made them her own.
When McCarthy spoke at the BFI London Film Festival at the gala screening of Can You Ever Forgive Me, she spoke about the challenge of approaching a difficult character.
“I wanted to make sure she was never going to be shown unnecessarily harsh,” McCarthy said.
“I thought she was a character that myself and everyone could relate to. Even if she was the extreme versions of that.
Can You Ever Forgive Me: Lee Israel was a true life biographer and letter forger
“Being so alone, and feeling like you desperately needed someone to see you and accept you for all your bumps and bruises.
“I kept thinking, what would any of us do if we were pushed into that desperate situation?
“What she did – her talent was so incredible. Her wit. She was remarkable.”
It’s hard not to think of McCarthy herself in these words – her remarkable wit unparalleled in her performance as Israel.
Will she win the Oscar? Maybe. If not, McCarthy has still achieved the ephemeral thing actors seek – a harmonious blend of truth and imagination, humour and despair, light and dark.
Can You Ever Forgive Me is out in UK cinemas on February 1, 2019.