It's not often an actor gains both an Oscar and Razzie nomination in the same year, but that's a fate that has befell Melissa McCarthy.
Whilst her performance in The Happytime Murders was widely ridiculed, she has equally earned her plaudits for her role in Marielle Heller's real-life crime-comedy, showing a darker side to her comedic talents.
She plays Lee Israel here, an author who is struggling to make a living after her latest book fails. Her publisher believes Lee lacks a clear voice, with the writer preferring to write Fanny Brice biographies rather than works of fiction. One day though, she finds a letter written by Brice when researching, and takes it to a local antiques dealer, who says she can give more money for "better content".
Sensing an opportunity, Lee begins to forge personal letters from famous playwrights, actors and authors, embellishing them with personal details to acquire a higher price. Alongside the local swindler Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Lee finds the personal voice that she never had, and makes use of her newfound affluence before the FBI begin to catch wind of a scam.
Rather than being a full-blown crime-caper, screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty take a distanced look, with the crimes being something of an afterthought. Just like Lee closes herself off from virtually everyone she meets, the audience is shut off from the crimes, with literary forgery not being the most exciting of misdemeanours; thankfully, Heller and co. never overplay the impending investigation, leaving us to hang out with Lee and Jack.
Lee's sarcastic tones and Jack's camp extravagance creates a nice dichotomy, with the pair harbouring a misanthropic edge. They very much exist in their own world, with New York being their playground as they drink, place prank calls and impersonate Nora Ephron. Both McCarthy and Grant are terrific, making use of a tight screenplay and bringing their characters to life in different ways.
Brandon Trost's muted cinematography, which consists of a grey palette, captures both 90s New York milieu and the characters' outlook, with the production design reinforcing the grimy lives of Lee and Jack. Though the film never fully draws you in, the charismatic characters are brought to life by two great performances, with the film successfully making you warm to characters who could easily be unlikeable. For McCarthy and Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? gives them the platform to succeed, and hopefully results in them being offered roles of the same quality.