‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ Will Make You Nostalgic For New York In The 90s

Imagine The City Without Millennials

I saw the Can You Ever Forgive Me? movie. Melissa McCarthy, in an amazing wig, plays a sad, grumpy alcoholic lesbian hack biographer. She concocts a scheme to make money by forging the letters of historic wits like Fanny Brice, Noel Coward, and Dorothy Parker. While doing this, she swills more whiskey in two hours than the state of Kentucky does in a year. It’s a great performance that will certainly get her many nominations and maybe even some awards.

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Written by: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin
Running time: 106 min.


To make the movie ever better, Richard E. Grant plays her accomplice, a flaming gay roustabout con man. Grant is one of the bitchiest drunks in screen history but often ends up playing  villains in second-tier genre films. This represents his finest drunken screen hour since Withnail And I, which was a long time ago now. If the various academies don’t nominate him for this amazing performance, I’ll eat my laptop.

What a hack

Can You Ever Forgive Me? won’t find much of an audience outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn or cities that contain small pockets of snotty New York intellectual refugees. Nothing explodes, no one kisses. McCarthy’s longing gaze turns only toward alcohol and her cat.  “I can’t find a publisher” only resonates with a limited percentage of the population. But it resonated with me. An aging writer dealing with a career in perpetual decline? I resemble that remark. The movie gets it all right, the exclusionary parties, the trendy publishing idiots, the musty bookshops that provide the backbone of the pretentious literary façade. The story may be mostly true, but the movie makes it believable. It contains no flashbacks, no explanations, just narrative drive and character exposition.

McCarthy’s character, Lee Israel, longs for a day of wit and glamour that no longer exists. But her nostalgia turns backward to an actually glamorous time, postwar America, where giants lounged around the piano exchanging bons mots. The movie, on the other hand, gazes tenderly at a less glitzy, more affordable time, New York in the 90s. Actually, New York in the early 90s. It’s pre-Giuliani, pre-Gawker, pre-millennial, pre-hipster Brooklyn. In fact, the narrative never takes us below Times Square, as far as I could tell. We see a New York when uptown was gritty. I remember that dirty New York, when life was hopeless and no one cared about anything and no one had fun. Those were good times, those bad times.

This concludes my review of the Can You Ever Forgive Me? movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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