CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? almost succeeds in doing the impossible: to take a truly vile unlikable human being and turn them into a movie protagonist that an audience can care about and root for. Almost. Both the Oscar-nominated performances by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are terrific and, with the help of some really great writing, transform this “based on a true story”, which for all practical purposes could have been a painful experience, into a pretty darn good movie. And before you say “Oh, this is just a comedy actor taking a pay cut to play a serious role in hopes of awards credibility” — it’s actually really funny (in an off-beat, dark wit sort of way).
However… the film ultimately suffers from problems all-to-common in the “true story” genre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Life isn’t tidy, and true stories rarely have closure in the same way movies do (and should), which rarely makes for a satisfying third act. The same is true for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? The movie sets up things beautifully, escalates effortlessly through the second act, but then falls short of delivering a satisfying payoff in the end. And the attempt to shoe-horn one in (that last scene in the bar) feels far too much like a writer’s contrivance that an organic conclusion. Hell, even if it’s true and it really did happen that way, it still doesn’t feel like it.
So, in conclusion, I thought the movie was good. Not “98% on RT” good, but good, and definitely worth watching if you can stomach the horror-show that is Lee Israel.