Tag: Dolly Wells

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant excel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Melissa McCarthy (Lee Israel), Richard E. Grant (Jack Hock), Dolly Wells (Anna), Jane Curtin (Marjorie), Anna Deavere Smith (Elaine), Stephen Spinella (Paul), Ben Falcone (Alan Schmidt)

There is a certain pleasure in seeing the pretensions of the pompous being pricked. Is there anyone more pompous than the self-conscious exhibitionism of the literary collector? You know the sort – the kind who talk about how witty and true “dear Noël and Dorothy” were, and will pay a fortune in order to prominently display (show off) typewritten and signed epistles from their literary heroes, eager to be touching just a hint of the greatness of others. It’s a market failed writer Lee Israel managed to find herself immersed in – the difference being Israel was turning out brilliantly written pastiches, with forged signatures, that she was selling on to dealers.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a bad-tempered, difficult personality with a chip on her shoulder and a horror at the idea of letting anyone get too close to her. Struggling to make ends meet, she stumbles across some letters from Fanny Brice. Trying to sell them, she finds they sell for a lot more if she uses the blank space at the bottom of the letter to add a witty, more personal PS. From there she starts writing whole correspondences from scratch, covering authors as varied as Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway, her dedicated research producing letters that feel real and genuine. She’s aided and abetted by her sole friend, a drunken, seedy British homosexual Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), who mixes genuine warmth and friendship with casual lies and betrayals. But how long can this criminal enterprise last?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an entertaining, well made part caper, part comedy, part sad little tragedy of a lonely woman struggling against the world. Lee Israel is blunt, rude, aggressive and speaks her mind and steadfastly refuses to live the kind of life required to get ahead in the literary world. She’s barely tolerated by her agent, and almost impossible to make friends with. Saying that, McCarthy’s trick is to make her far more of a Victor Meldrew character, railing against the petty rudeness and snobbery of the world, rather than an outright bully. It’s notable that the people she is most rude to are all cruel to her first.

All this helps you to invest in Israel, and feel sorry for a frightened, lonely woman who won’t let anyone into her life apart from her cat and feels only bitterness and frustration at where her career has taken her. Sure she may be difficult and even irritating to know personally, but Marielle Heller’s well-made film invests her with a great deal of empathy. Heller’s direction is shrewd, gentle and manages to turn a difficult woman into someone we end up feeling sorry for.

It also helps that this is a really warm, rather touching, relationship film that covers two best friends – and that it might well feature career best performances from the Oscar-nominated pair Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant. McCarthy (looking like a frumpy Annette Badland) is exceptional as Israel, vulnerable but defiant who makes more trouble for herself than she needs. Heller introduces a fictionalised semi-romantic interest from one of her literary dealers, a sensitive, kind would-be writer Anna (played well by Dolly Wells). It’s a relationship that shows Israel’s emotional frostiness, her instinctive defensiveness towards any personal interest – as well as hints of her guilt for essentially defrauding this woman. McCarthy’s performance – often caustically funny – is also deeply affecting for its fragility and desperation, too socially awkward to build relationships.

It also sparks brilliantly well off Grant’s superb performance as transient semi con-man Jack Hock. Grant channels elements of Withnail in the character’s bohemian alcoholism, but Jack is far more complicated than that. A wonderful contrast with Israel, Hock is immediately able to form bonds with people, patient, kind, gentle, an amusing raconteur and a man who takes pride in dressing up. Grant’s performance is humane, sensitive but also deeply funny with a long streak of selfishness and self-destructive compulsion. The relationship between these two is the heart of the film, an entertaining and endearing odd couple, with Hock getting closer than anyone to thawing Israel’s defences. Grant’s not only wildly funny, but also deeply moving – often in smaller moments, where he gently comforts Israel or (later) asks for forgiveness.

The warmth between the two friends is what makes the film work above anything else. It’s the heart of the movie – and the film is perhaps reliant on the excellence of the two actors and their chemistry. The story around them is, at times, rather slight and generally the film itself is so gentle to verge on being a little forgettable – but you never lose your focus because it has more than enough wit and those two brilliant lead performances to keep it going. Career best work in a well made film, makes this film more than worth catching.

45 Years (2015)

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling excel in a successful marriage suddenly going wrong after 45 Years

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Charlotte Rampling (Kate Mercer), Tom Courtenay (Geoff Mercer), Geraldine James (Lena), David Sibley (George), Dolly Wells (Charlotte)

What would you do if you found out, after 45 years, that there were huge things you never, ever, knew about the partner you had shared your life with? That the very basis of your marriage is completely different than you believed? How would that change everything you remembered before that? How could that change where your marriage may go in the future?

That’s the situation Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) a retired teacher in a quiet country house outside Norwich finds herself in. Five days before their 45th wedding anniversary party, her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter from the German police notifying them the body of a girl who died 50 years ago, Katya, has been found. Katya had been lost falling into a crevasse on a climbing holiday with Geoff. Geoff is profoundly shaken and distracted by the news – and over the next week, it emerges his relationship with Katya was far more profound and important to him than he has ever mentioned to Kate (and in fact he has never mentioned Katya to her before).

Counter as it runs to spoiler territory, I’ll say off the bat that Geoff did not murder Katya (the obvious, knee-jerk, twist we expect from years of films). Instead this is a far more complex and engaging story about the impact profound, emotional revelations can have on relationships that seem as strong and long-lasting as between Geoff and Kate. The film follows a single week as long since buried feelings, emotions and resentments begin to simmer and burst out – and as Kate begins to question everything she has ever understood about her Geoff and her life.

And how shocking would that be if you learned things about the person you loved that suddenly made them feel like a completely different person? And how could you ever begin to compete the with the romantic image your partner has in their head of someone who died 50 years ago, before they ever met you, but whom you start to feel everything you have ever done or said has been quietly, maybe even subconsciously, judged against?

45 Years is a hugely intelligent, acute and engrossing film. Virtually a two hander, it relies on the actors – shot by Haigh with an intimacy that immediately establishes their own long running and secure relationship – the film is a series of carefully structured conversations, many of which have the surface appearance of normality that hides far deeper emotional currents of angry, loss, grief, doubt and resentment. The film brilliantly taps into our own fears of having secrets kept from us, of being betrayed in some way – even if the betrayal is far more complex than expected.

And it understands completely that time here is not a healer. Instead, like some sort of monolithic ghost, Katya invades Kate and Geoff’s life. For Geoff it brings back a flood of feelings that he had long since repressed and pushed to one side. For Kate, these age old events have all the pang of newly discovered revelations. For them both Katya’s death may as well have been a few days not fifty years ago. Suddenly, her memory begins to permeate every inch of their home and every second of their (previously) happy marriage.

All this is played with expert compassion and humanity by Tom Courtenay and a possibly career-best Charlotte Rampling. Rampling (famously cheated of a BAFTA nomination like Courtenay but honoured with an Oscar nomination) mines untold depths of vulnerability, emotional doubt and insecurity that solidifies into barely acknowledged feelings of anger, pain and resentment. The final sequence of the film – set at that celebration party we were waiting for – rests on her brilliance at wordlessly reacting as she slowly processes the things that she has discovered in the last few days, and how they have changed her perception of both her, her husband and the decisions she and he have made in their lives.

Tom Courtenay is equally good as Geoff, becoming increasingly distant, withdrawn and anger, but (in that very British way) trying to pretend nothing has changed. He throws in flashes of carefree fun and moments of trying to jolly on, but it’s never really real. The two actors are also brilliant at suggesting the lived in comfortableness of a long term relationship, every scene of theirs having a careful short hand of intimacy. Two sublime performances.

The whole thing is brilliantly packaged by Andrew Haigh’s subtle and careful direction into something that haunts the imagination long after it finishes. It’s the sort of film you’ll be desperate to discuss with people as soon as it finishes, to try and understand and interpret what you’ve seen in it. That final sequence is a perfect pay off for everything you’ve seen before, a brilliant sequence of uncertainty and hesitation. Fabulous film making and a very good film.