On its surface, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a crime movie, recounting the forgeries of one Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) and her fairweather friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Lee, a once-successful author finding herself in dire financial straits, applies her writerly skills to forging and selling letters by famous literary figures before the law inevitably catches up with her.
But that’s not really the story of Can You Ever Forgive Me? This is, instead, a corrective to the modern New York film; a genre defined by Woody Allen and reimagined recently by the likes of Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. These films celebrate the Big Apple as the apex of progressive politics and artistic expression. Granted, they’re invariably undercut but a not-insignificant degree of self-awareness and self-criticism, but also invariably buoyed by unexamined privilege: class, money, connections.
This is a different kind of New York film. A film that looks at the abandoned detritus of Manhattan bohemia, the erudite, intelligent, queer figures who seem to fit in yet are discarded when they’re no longer en vogue. This is a film steeped in regret and sadness but balanced by wit and insight; one of 2018’s genuine surprises.