When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception. An adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Lee Israel.
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Following the critical and commercial failure of her biography of Estée Lauder, author Lee Israel struggles with financial troubles, writer's block and alcoholism. With her agent unable to secure her an advance for a new biography, Israel is forced to sell her possessions to cover her expenses; she sells a personal letter she received from Katharine Hepburn to Anna, a local book dealer. While conducting research for a novel about Fanny Brice, Israel happens upon a letter from Brice folded in a book, which she takes and offers to sell to Anna. She offers Israel a low price due to the letter's lack of interesting content. Israel begins to forge and sell letters by deceased writers, playwrights, and actors, lacing them with intimate details to command a higher price. Anna, who is a fan of Israel's own writing, attempts to initiate a romantic relationship with her, but is rebuffed..
A pile of Lee Israel books ("Beyond the Magic", an unauthorized biography of Estee Lauder) are shown on sale at a bookstore for 75% off. Lauder was publishing her own memoirs and initially tried to pay Israel *not* to write her book, but she refused and rushed her book to publication. The autobiography was released in October 1985 and Israel's biography one month later. The book buying public chose to buy the Lauder's autobiography rather than the Israel's biography. Lee Israel later said she regretted not taking the money when it was first offered. See more »
Twenty-first century automobiles vaguely drive around in some shots. See more »
IN BRIEF: Two great performances enhance a true tale about breaking the law.
JIM'S REVIEW: Lee Israel is a down-on-her-luck misanthropic writer who admittingly "likes cats more than people" and drink excessively. No one is interested in her novels, no one cares about her either. She is a sad lonely woman who isolates herself from the world and the world seems to prefer it that way too. Forced to survive, Lee decides that becoming a literary forger, complete with dead celebrity signatures, may actually be a more profitable vocation. Played with total honesty and conviction by Melissa McCartney, she becomes a most compelling character of worth in this fact-based biography, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Solidly directed by Marielle Heller and with a literate screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty that captures the 90's sensibilities very well, the film spends a great deal of time establishing Lee's self-enforced exile from the human race and her get-rich scheme. The storytelling becomes a tad monotonous and is more leisurely paced than necessary. But the true life story of an author unable to cope with the harsh realities of life is always a fascinating subject.
And Ms. McCartney is a wonder, showing the full gamut of emotion. She restrains her great comic prowess and exchanges it for genuine pathos and vulnerability. Never allowing her character to become overly sympathetic or too much a victim, Ms. McCartney makes Lee a pathetic yet shrewd criminal. Abetting Lee is her partner-in-crime, a flamboyantly gay Jack Hoch. Richard E. Grant is superb as her only friend and carefree accomplice. These two misfits become a wonderful tag team and bring much nuance to their well written roles. They are both deserving of award consideration. Fine support also comes from its strong cast which includes Dolly Wells, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavera Smith, and Jane Curtain as Lee's frustrated agent.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a nicely honed character study that provides an acting showcase for the talented Ms. M. who hopefully will have more dramatic opportunities in her future cinematic ventures.
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