"Can you ever forgive me?" Asked the biographer turned scammer, Lee Israel, first as Dorothy Parker and then as herself in an autobiography that tells how he simulated the remarkable literary letters for profit.
Marielle Heller's film adaptation of Israel's memoirs raises the same question, a pitiful call to absolution in the face of injustice. Despite his luck in the 1990s in New York, Israel organized an elaborate operation to forge a famous correspondence of people like Parker, Noël Coward, Marlene Dietrich and more. On paper, writing seems unforgivable. On the screen, however, he is almost absolutely worthy of being loved, in part thanks to Melissa McCarthy's refreshing and sullen interpretation of Israel.
"Can You Forgive Me?" It shows the actress as a scammer we can encourage.
When the film presents Israel, an author who was once on the bestseller list, is in a low, having been unceremoniously dismissed from a desk job after having drunk at work and having cited His work partners. She shows up at a book party to ask her agent (Jane Curtin) why she has not returned the calls, just to leave early and slip a coat off. Remove the corpses from the pillow before going to bed at night. Your beloved cat falls ill, but the veterinarian will not treat the pet until Israel pays his past due balance.
When she finally enters her agent's office, furious that Tom Clancy receives $ 300 million for another crappy book while she fights on the anonymity, Israel is told that she could be nicer if she wants to reach the same heights.
"Give me a fucking break!" McCarthy-as-Israel responds in a characteristic talk.
"You can be an asshole when you're famous," his agent replies, reminding Israel that nobody remembers the name of a biographer.
And so begins the crime life of Israel. Without any progress on which to lean, Israel decides to sell a personal note of Katharine Hepburn that is framed in its wall to survive. That, along with an original and fortuitous letter from the vaudeville comedian that Fanny Brice found during a research session, lights up an idea: I could write these letters. She could fake the personal ornaments that make them worth so much money.
She tests the waters by adding a postscript to her true letter from Fanny Brice, delving deeper into a fake Noel Coward. Soon, it becomes a matter of full right, complete with fabricated stationery and old typewriters to match those used by each of their subjects. Along the way, she befriends Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a scoundrel who is as lonely as she is, and eventually prompts him to plan.
McCarthy transforms himself completely into the irascible person of Israel, who preserves the humanity of a person who could easily have become a caricature. The role still allows her to be physical and comical, but in a more subtle way than the generic box office hits "Melissa McCarthy inserts here" that she often has the task of carrying. Not surprisingly, I've already talked to Oscar about her.
Israel should not be a nice hero, but she becomes one anyway. Compared to the scams of large sums of people like Anna Delvey or John Meehan that caught the attention of the public over the past year, Israel seems to be meek. All she wants, after all, is to pay her back rent and buy her some medicines. Even when Hock, delighted by her success, suggests that they miss him in shopping or debauchery, she says she only plans to spend it on groceries and the roof over her head.
The whole scheme of Israel is a middle finger for the literary establishment, the circles of those who wear fur coats and Tom Clancy's suctions from which it is clearly distinguished. Like a less scrupulous Robin Hood, she is robbing the rich to pay herself.
In one scene, after being informed by telephone that her agent is not available, Israel calls her back, pretending to be Nora Ephron and repairing her immediately. She keeps the farce for a moment longer, before shouting "Starfucker!" On the phone and hit the headset. (This movie will make you miss the cathartic powers of a solid phone that hangs). It's a joy to see her mess with the guys who would reject her in a different way.
Even fraud itself is born from a related problem: the imposter syndrome. Israel never felt like a writer, she confesses. Despite his success as a biographer, he can not tell his own story; it is safer to inhabit the worlds of others than to face theirs. For anyone whose way of life is similar to their own identity, it is easy to understand this situation, the fear that the only thing they can do is no longer sustainable. It is only after she is trapped by the FBI, her scam exposed, that she is given permission to take a leap and document her saga.
In the end, the film does not leave Israel completely free of problems. Your frauds are not without emotional cost, no matter the money. The suggestion of a relationship with a book seller who bought his first Fanny Brice letter is canceled as soon as Israel's faults are made public. She pays an expensive price when she asks Hock to take care of her apartment, while the counterfeit business takes her out of the city, a betrayal of which her friendship with Hock never recovers.
However, at the end of the film, when Israel drinks a drink instead of attending their court-appointed AA meeting, it's hard not to laugh. She has to remain herself, after all, frowning at the literary establishment and her punishment still.
In real life, Israel published "Can you ever forgive me?" In 2008, what she brought to her publishing house in an amusing way was "Memoirgate," as she called it, when the publishing industry was nervous about "true" stories after James Frey's sales success. Everything was revealed as false.
But in his case, he said, everything he wrote was what really happened. In the memoirs, he mentions a letter from him that said it had been written by Noël Coward and that it became a biography about the dramatist of the previous year, something that Israel called "great news and a great compliment".
In many ways, so is the movie.
"Can You Forgive Me?" It's in theaters on Friday.