Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant, Dolly Wells
Director: Marielle Heller
Lee Israel (McCarthy) is a crotchety woman who lives alone with her cat. Her poor behaviour gets her fired from her job and her dull writing means that the books she writes won’t sell, but when her cat gets sick and she’s behind on her rent, she decides to turn to forgery, creating letters from famous literary figures to sell. Teaming up with a heavy drinking, rascally Brit Jack (Grant) to help her, she starts to make money at last, but soon goes too far.
Based on a true story and adapted from Lee Israel’s own memoir, the film is part comedy, part crime caper.
What struck me immediately was not just that the film is very witty, but also that although Israel is a pretty awful person, McCarthy imbues her with vulnerability and a certain irascible charm. I kind of liked her and wanted to see her get herself out of her rut. It was at first painful to watch her struggle with life and fail. She and Jack are both people that you feel very glad that you don’t actually know in real life. They’re desperate, reek of alcohol and shameful, embarrassing mistakes, and yet, they make for great watching.
I liked the way this film was shot too. Set in 1991, it’s not nostalgic at all. It doesn’t showcase 90’s fashion or music. In fact, the film is more about the clicking sounds of the type writer than music, though it does have some classic tunes and soft piano music. Most characters wear muted tones, tweedy colours. Jack is slightly more flamboyant, but the lighting makes him a faded creature. While there is some yellow warmth to the lighting, the general tone of light that surrounds the characters is cold, slightly dim blue. The characters exist in a cold world, a corporate one, one that Lee Israel is out of touch with, so the small use of yellow light seems like small comfort.
There were times when I found this film painful to watch, because I felt so uncomfortable for Israel. You know something is going to go wrong, she’s going to get caught, she’s her own worst enemy. But while that kind of main character would normally bother me, I kind of liked her. She’s intelligent and has some hilariously mean one liners. Teamed with Richard E Grant, they two are destined to fail, are already failures, and yet you really want to see what they’re going to get up to next. A really funny, witty true story with an excellent central performance.
See It If: “Caustic wit is my religion” this movie tells us. Witty and sharp, this movie shows Melissa McCarthy is a performer who just keeps outdoing herself. A really enjoyable film.