Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a story rooted in the truth of the life of writer Lee Israel. The movie is carried by Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E. Grant as her accomplice, Jack Hook. I need to say up front that this one is drawing excellent reviews and appreciative audiences while adding that I found it very troubling. Here goes with my take on this movie.

At the opening in 1991, Lee Israel lives on 86th Street in Manhattan in a small apartment that she has no interest in enjoying. In every way, it’s a foul mess and she doesn’t care. She loves her cat and her work but she is in an emotional cave-in right now because her comical written improvements on the work of celebrity authors have become dated. She has known fine success in extending the writings of Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen, Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, and other literary beacons of their day. But by 1991, few in the public are interested in Israel’s articles about past celebrities. She is broke and discouraged.

And then – she takes to stealing original celebrity letters from libraries and bookstores and laces them with her own sense of humor and sharp writing. The next step in her plan: she sells the improved originals for increasing amounts of money. Jack, her homeless accomplice, develops even more sophisticated ways for her to sell the fake originals, moves into her apartment, and together they sell their forgeries of famous people. They get drunk regularly and plan further thefts. Their new business is growing.

My involuntary reaction was disgust. Is there any crime uglier than stealing the words of famous dead authors, adding your own cleverness to their work, and then selling it for publication – especially if it’s a true story? This story is rooted entirely in theft, fraud, and plagiarism and we are supposed to admire Israel’s formidable talent in navigating that ugly world. Surely in this non-fiction tale, a writer with her talent could have found a way to support herself other than heavy drinking with a thoroughly grim fellow loser as they plan attacks on dead authors.

But this movie is drawing appreciative crowds. If you find Melissa McCarthy and Jack E. Grant charming and funny, if you laugh through a movie that is the story of people who have no moral compass, then just dismiss my thoughts. It’s that simple.

If you think that you will enjoy watching Israel’s cleverness in an upbeat ending that lasts for just a few minutes, then go. With this character, Writer Nicole Holofcener and director Marielle Heller have taken women from their relatively new roles as intelligent ornaments, as opposed to boring ornaments, into the comically flawed roles usually reserved for men. Perhaps that’s progress. While I stewed in annoyance at two alcoholic plagiarists, Melissa McCarthy has invented a comically flawed heroine who has carried the movie and herself to Oscar nominations.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Word Count : 496
Running Time : 1:46
Rating : R
Date : November 11, 2018


The Old Man & The Gun

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Old Man & The Gun

The Old Man & The Gun is quiet, slow, and questionable. The main reason to go is to salute Robert Redford by seeing his final film. Now, however, Mr. Redford has announced in a recent interview that he had such fun making this one that he may well change his mind about retiring. Whether you decide to go should depend on how you feel about this movie actor who has given us great pleasure over the decades. Without him, this movie wouldn’t last long.

We are presented with Forrest Tucker (yes, Robert Redford), a man possessed by a dream. He has found his life’s pleasure, excitement, and challenge in robbing banks. Now and then he serves a jail term when caught but that doesn’t dim the fun of planning his heists.

He has created his holdups artistically. With the good looks of a fit older man dressed in a business suit, he enters a bank, quietly reveals the unloaded pistol in his jacket and asks politely for the money in the teller’s drawer. What Redford does so well is to convey not just the calm of the thief but his quiet, deep pleasure in the theft. This is one man who loves his work. When he leaves the bank with a box full of cash, he wears a very gentle smile. He did it again.

The movie’s many subtleties may well be pleasure for the elders among us, but will young people love it? No one will ever hear Robert Redford raise his voice. When he sees Jewel (a very fine Sissy Spacek) trying to fix her broken car by the roadside, he pulls over to create with her a lovely first meeting that you may have to be older to appreciate. The acceptance by each of the other’s eccentricities makes young courtship look foolish. The few lovely scenes where they share their affection are beautifully done.

We have met a man whose pleasure comes from escaping and outwitting police and prisons. He’s done just that many times, and as we watch him when he’s quiet, we know he’s planning his next heist. This is the perfect part for Robert Redford. The bank robber hasn’t a false or fake note in him; he just loves what he does. But it’s repetitious and slow. If you can handle that, both Redford and Spacek win us over with warm performances. Those of us old enough to remember their old days will probably like it more than those who are very young.

Seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with my whole family years ago is an enduring memory for me. All ages of us loved it. In The Old Man & The Gun we love Redford for not trying make himself look younger than he is. If you’re feeling sentimental, you may appreciate the gentle old bank robber who loves his work. If not, you might find the movie interminably slow.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Old Man & The Gun
Word Count : 497
Running Time : 1:33
Rating : PG-13
Date : 21 October 2018