Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy: The Happytime Murders) is good at her job, biography, but not at her profession. She’s uppity and standoffish with other writers, refuses to do radio or press for her books, berates her agent and drinks herself into scenes. Only her cat loves her.
An increasingly desperate financial state leads Lee to sell a prized possession: a personal letter from Katharine Hepburn. Researching Fanny Brice, she finds and sells another letter. Realizing the lucrative market for personalized letters from literary icons, she puts her talent for adopting the writing voice of others to work in a new career: forging letters.
Making good money, feeling confident about her talents and finally enjoying life, she sees a modicum of the success she always felt she deserved.
Can Lee find happiness as a forger?
Director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) has made a clever, acerbic film about a woman who found her voice by stealing the voices of others. She captures the grit and grime of Lee’s life in 1991 New York, the pre-Giuliani city of drugs, sex and bugs. The city thrives on preying on stupidity, Lee tells herself. Why shouldn’t she? Heller also captures the city light, casting the film in a white wintery hue of muted colors.
Performances, on the other hand, are brilliant. At the center of the film are Lee and her partner in crime Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms). A part-time coke dealer and full-time thief, Grant is a hilariously slimy foil to McCarthy, seemingly unflappable in his awfulness and always utterly charming. He’s the type of terrible person you can’t stay mad at, even if you have cause. His ability to brush off Lee’s venomous barbs and continue drinking with her becomes an endearing character quirk that points to his loneliness and opportunism.
McCarthy is even better. Famous for her slapstick shtick, she departs from her usual funny lady image to give a performance of surprising dramatic range. She is transformed as Lee, a hard-drinking, emotionally stunted woman who can’t seem to get out of her own way. Lee isn’t a nice person, but she doesn’t need to be. This isn’t a story about repentance.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a heist movie for people with literature degrees. If you’ve ever quoted Dorothy Parker or Noël Coward, this is the film for you. You may find out you were actually quoting Lee Israel.
Great Drama • R • 106 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a creature of quiet solitude. He likes being miserable and alone, which is why he finds Who-ville so annoying. Most of the time, the Grinch can ignore the Whos and their banal little lives, but once a year, it becomes unendurable.
Every year Who-ville celebrates Christmas with a bombastic combination of lights, music and events. This year, the celebration will be longer and bigger. The Grinch can’t tolerate the idea of so much joy, so he hatches a plan to pose as Santa Claus and steal Christmas from Who-ville once and for all.
Not to be a grinch, but no one needs to spend money on this movie. This remake of the classic Dr. Seuss tale and reimagining of the classic animated movie is unnecessary but harmless.
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 86 mins.
Only four American paratroopers survive the drop behind enemy lines deep in Nazi-occupied France. If they can’t knock out a radio tower in a German-fortified church, the upcoming D-Day invasion could be a disaster.
On their mission, the soldiers discover a force worse than they feared. The Germans have created an army of zombies.
Zombie Nazis aren’t a new concept. Director Julius Avery has made his take a cut above, with a strong plot, sharp dialogue, above-average acting and competent filmmaking … in case you’re interested.
Prospects: Bright • R • 109 mins.
What They Had
Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home to find her once vivacious mother Ruth (Blythe Danner) in the grip of dementia.
Bridget wants to put her in a care facility, but her father (Robert Forster) refuses to acknowledge the reality of his wife’s mental deterioration.
A movie about loss, love and the pain of family ties, What They Had is a drama that was tailor-made for awards season. Expect Danner, Swank and Forster to get some buzz for their meaty roles in this familial melodrama. It’s got good acting, insightful screenwriting and devastating emotion, but light it’s not.
Prospects: Bright • R • 101 mins.
When his father (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job, Joe (Ed Oxenbould) worries about how his family will survive. His worries are well founded. His father leaves home to take a job fighting wildfires. His mother Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) doesn’t want to be left alone and is not suited for the life 1960s’ America has told her to want. She seeks out fun and purpose without thinking what it might do to her family.
A movie about the slow death of the American nuclear family, Wildlife is a bit morose. Before you dismiss it outright, consider that Mulligan has earned awards buzz for her fierce performance.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 104 mins.