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CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?: 4 STARS. “best feel-good movie about loneliness ever made.”

In “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Melissa McCarthy leaves behind the broad comedic portrayals that made her famous in favour of a character that puts realism ahead of the funny.

Based on a true story, McCarthy plays Lee Israel, a once successful writer with dozens of magazine profiles and even a best-selling biography on her resume. Her seventies and eighties heyday gives way to a change of fortune in the early nineties. After a book on cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder failed to grab the attention of the reading public the bottom falls out of her writing career. “No one is going to pay for Lee Israel right now,” says her agent (Jane Curtain) says. “I suggest you find another way to make a living.”

Broke and desperate, she finds an old letter from vaudeville star Fanny Brice and it changes her life for better and for worse. She sells the letter for big money and launches a second career forging and selling literary correspondence by celebrities from the likes of Noel Coward, Katherine Hepburn and Dorothy Parker. “I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker,” she says. The letters serve two purposes in Lee’s life. They give her an outlet for her writing and the sales fill her bank account. “I have figured out how to pay the bills without shovelling s**t,” she says. With some help from her shady friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), all goes well, or at least as well as anything in the troubled woman’s life could go, until the FBI start sniffing around.

We seen McCarthy play desperate before but we’ve never seen her quite like this. There are familiar shades in the performance, the quick temper, the lashing out but the difference is that here she’s playing a character, not a caricature. As Israel she adds notes to the character. She is both vulnerable and vicious, sardonic and self-doubting. We know she can do comedy but with this nicely nuanced work we now know she can deliver the dramatic goods.

As the flamboyant Jack, Lee’s only friend and partner in crime, Grant is equal parts smarm and charm. He’s the kind of outrageous character who says things like, “Maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she moved to the suburbs—I always confused the two,” and spends on what little money he has on getting his teeth bleached. He has a faded elegance about him that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” wraps up just a bit too conveniently, making it the best feel-good movie about loneliness and despondency ever made.

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