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Melissa McCarthy

“CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?” My rating: 
106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Can a criminal act be a form of art?

Well, yes — at least according to “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Writer/director Marielle Heller’s sophomore feature (after the hair-raising “Diary of a Teenage Girl”) is based on the real case of Lee Israel, a minor author of literary and show-biz biographies who back in the early ’90s revived her flagging financial fortunes by forging and selling nearly 400 letters from famous literary types like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker.

Starring Melissa McCarthy (in serious mode) as the curmudgeonly Israel and Richard E. Grant as her lowlife friend and co-conspirator, “Can You Ever…” walks a fine line between bathos and black humor. Along the way it gets you rooting for the “bad” guys.

When we first meet McCarthy’s Lee she’s trying to get her long-time agent (Jane Curtin) to cough up advance money for a bio of vaudeville legend Fanny Brice. That isn’t going to happen. As the agent calmly points out, there’s no interest in a Fanny Brice book and, anyway, Lee’s snarling personality pretty much alienates everyone she comes into contact with.

Indeed, Lee has just lost a temp gig for drinking on the job and loudly cursing her co-workers. Her sole friend is her cat, who needs medicine she cannot afford. Lee’s not above stealing another woman’s coat at a literary cocktail party.

She’s slugging them back at her local bar when she makes the acquaintance of Jack Hock (Grant), an aging British queen who passes himself off as a jaded sophisticate (he’s jaded, but hardly sophisticated) while living hand-to-mouth on NYC’s mean streets.

Jack’s catty, go-for-broke outlook meshes nicely with Lee’s misanthropy…they’re just what the other needs. For a while they’re mere drinking buddies.

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