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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Partners in Crime
by James Colt Harrison

Can You Ever Forgive Me? -- a very funny and sad biography of author Lee Israel -- has picked up three Academy Award ® nominations, including Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy), Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty). This Fox Searchlight Pictures release was adapted from real-life writer Lee Israel’s book. Now being re-released in theaters for Academy consideration, fans will have another chance to see this excellent film.

Melissa McCarthy proves she is both an accomplished comedienne as well as a dramatic actress. She tackles the role of the somewhat disagreeable Israel with gusto, and yet makes her character somehow likeable. It’s a fine line to walk as an actress, and McCarthy shows us how it’s done.

Israel was an accomplished writer who had had several hit books in her prime. She concentrated mostly on biographies of famous women such as film legend Katharine Hepburn, stage actress Tallulah Bankhead and gossip columnist and TV hostess Dorothy Kilgallen. But when she wrote a somewhat disjointed book about cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, it was a tremendous flop. This caused Israel to lose writing assignments and found it hard to get another book contract. She was scrounging to make a living. She hit the bottle a little heavily. She was forced to sell some of her personal belongings.

One of those possessions was a personal letter from Katharine Hepburn, which she took to book dealer Anna (Dolly Wells) and promptly sold. She then does some research on 1920s comic Fanny Brice (see Barbra Streisand’s version of the star in the film Funny Girl ). She finds a letter written by Brice in the book and steals it out of the library. She promptly sells the letter, which gives her the idea to forge other famous authors’ letters to make money. She’s now caught up in writing and selling forgeries that help her pay the rent and buy food for her cat Towne.

Engulfed in the madness of Israel’s scheme is old drinking buddy and perpetually half-potted Jack Hock, played magnificently by talented British actor Richard E. Grant. Because both of them are in dire straits, he agrees to sell the letters she forges. The FBI finds out and the jig is up. Both perpetrators are summarily punished.

Israel looked at her situation differently than perhaps a normal person might. She is actually proud of what she has done because in some cases she “improved” the content of the original authors’ letters. She was a good writer, to be sure. But she was no Noel Coward or Edna Ferber.

Yes, McCarthy plays the leading actress, but she and Grant must share the accolades as they so wonderfully play off each other. Partners in crime? Yes, but they make it look so delicious and even make us laugh.

(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated “R” for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use.)

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