Writers in movies: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Another in an occasional series.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the true story of Lee Israel, a moderately successful biographer whose best days are behind her. Broke, alcoholic, and desperate, she stumbles onto a scam that brings in some money — at least for a while: she forges letters from literary figures like Dorothy Parker and sells them to credulous and acquisitive rare-book and memorabilia dealers. It all falls apart before long, but for a brief, glorious period she is once again creative and successful, in a strange sort of way.

It’s a nice little movie, and Melissa McCarthy is great in it. (Richard E. Grant, as her gay alcoholic sidekick, is even greater.) McCarthy’s character is a depressing loser who can’t hold down a job and cares only for her cat, but she has a spark. She comes alive when sitting in front of her typewriter, and I found myself wishing she were normal enough to find a way to create a real career for herself with that spark. But it wasn’t going to happen.

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