Can You Ever Forgive Me? Well, no, probably not.
This film is a cautionary tale reminding its audience to work honestly for what you want and to treat others well. Melissa McCarthy plays the real-life biographer Lee Israel who is struggling to find work. The reason she can’t find work, though, is because of her personality. She is rude, demeaning, and just downright mean to other people – all the qualities of a great protagonist.
I’m kidding, of course. This is a main character who, when you think about it, is extremely difficult to support. And I don’t think you’re meant to support her. The problem with this is that, on the surface level, she’s funny, down on her luck, and has to support a sick cat. She’s presented in such a way that makes it seem like, as an audience, we are supposed to feel bad for her and want her to succeed. But none of her actions point us in that direction.
Lee lies, manipulates, and puts people down from the beginning to the end of the movie. She doesn’t have any friends and, as mean as it seems to say, it’s easy to see why. Once she does meet someone who she begins to get closer to, she eventually drives him away. She doesn’t do anything I could get behind.
This is why I see this movie as a cautionary tale. There are people in the professional business who are trying to help Lee get back on her feet the entire time. These people are almost all kind and friendly – the exact kind of people you want to have on your side when you are struggling to make ends meet as a writer. But Lee spurns their attempts at helping her and turns to deception instead.
Lee begins to forge documents written by other famous authors so she can sell them and make a large profit. Before all of this comes to a head, she cheats probably dozens of people out of hundreds and thousands of dollars. This is not exactly the kind of person we want to emulate.
The way this film is made reminds me of The Wolf of Wall Street, in that it is depicting a main character who we should not like. Instead, we should completely disagree with everything she does. Somewhat surprisingly, McCarthy does a great job of encapsulating this character, especially when she is playing off Richard E. Grant. Their on screen dynamic is a large part of what makes this movie work.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is Oscar bait in the sense that it’s based off a true story, is well-made, and has a comedic actor shifting to a mostly dramatic role. But even so, it serves its purpose well. Hopefully viewers of this movie are able to see the messages for what they are, past the façade of humor and lightheartedness.