Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Movie Poster Image
Wry, painful fact-based comedy has language, drinking.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 107 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Crime doesn't pay -- but neither does ignoring people with talent. Human connection is an important part of life, even for those who think they're just fine all alone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lee Israel is a talented, sharp-witted survivor, but she's also a bitter, depressed alcoholic who terribly abuses people's trust. In other words, she's a complex lead in a complex story. She does many things that range from iffy to wrong, but she does eventually face down some of the demons that have driven her to that point.

Violence

Nothing shown on-screen, but one character shows up after having been badly beaten. His wounds are tended. An animal is shown dead. Characters argue.

Sex

One character is apparently compulsively sexual, eventually contracting AIDS; there's discussion of his promiscuity. A morning-after scene briefly shows the bottom half of a man's naked buttocks. Innuendo.

Language

Strong language throughout includes many uses of "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," "twat," "c--k," "d--k," "a--hole," "hell," "crap," "goddamn," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The two main characters are active alcoholics and are often shown drinking. One is also a cocaine dealer/user who's briefly shown using the drug while a date smokes pot. Adult drinking at a dinner party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a smart, bitingly funny, but also bleak story based on a memoir by down-on-her-luck writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), who turns to forgery when she desperately needs to make ends meet. Expect plenty of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "c--t," and many more) amid the characters' witty banter. Israel is an alcoholic, so there's also extensive drinking, as well as some cocaine and marijuana use. Not much in the way of sex is shown on-screen (though viewers will get a brief glimpse of a naked male butt), but there are sexual themes, and the characters talk about sex and promiscuity. Richard E. Grant and Dolly Wells co-star.

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What's the story?

In CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, once-touted biographical author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is extremely down on her luck. She hasn't been published in years, she just got fired, she's way behind on her rent, and now her cat is sick. Pretty much the only thing going well for her is her drinking. Soon after meeting charming kindred barfly Jack (Richard E. Grant), Lee stumbles upon an illegal way to pay her bills: She uses her talent to mimic the voices of literary greats and forge personal letters from them to sell. But how long can she keep the game afoot? The movie is based on Israel's same-named memoir.

Is it any good?

It's a festival of self-loathing, but this comedy does a remarkable job of balancing its bleaker elements with the lightness of Israel's quick mind. Nicole Holofcener of Enough Said and Jeff Whitty of Broadway's Avenue Q have crafted one of 2018's more nimble scripts. Director Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl) and McCarthy let us into Lee's oppressive cloud of stress and worry while keeping the film afloat with her wit and drive to survive. And Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a feast for lovers of certain literary figures, as Lee captures their voices so skillfully. Her felonious scheme is portrayed in its full complexity: We admire the writing talent that makes it possible while cringing at its impact on innocent people.

The latter lands most effectively because of the wonderful supporting work of Dolly Wells as a smart, shy bookseller Lee becomes infatuated with but victimizes anyway. Wells recalls Shailene Woodley's exquisite fragility in The Spectacular Now with her authentic vulnerability. It's painful for viewers to watch her admiration for Lee grow, since they know what Lee is up to. It's a lovely, memorable performance. And then there's Grant as suave, hustling, aging ne'er-do-well Jack; it's a role that feels written specifically for the British charmer. He fully inhabits such dialogue as (when inviting himself to sit next to the sour Lee) "I'm coming over. I'm not good at reading social cues." In Jack, Grant (who, ironically, isn't a drinker in real life) may have finally found the showcase role needed to earn awards recognition. Pouring these two loquacious losers into a kind of depressive caper comedy tastes like a few parts Barfly and a few parts Ironweed, shaken, on the rocks.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Lee's actions in Can You Ever Forgive Me? She was trying to survive, but does that make what she did OK? Or understandable? Did you have mixed feelings about what she did? Why or why not?

  • The two main characters are unrepentant, almost romanticized alcoholics. What do you think of the way the movie depicted drinking?

  • Lee is very different from the types of characters Melissa McCarthy is best known for. Why do you think the idea of playing Lee might have appealed to her? Do you like seeing comedic actors try different styles/genres?

Movie details

For kids who love quirky movies

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