“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” helmer Marielle Heller snagged a slew of potential projects after her 2015 breakout starring Bel Powley, but she’s finally back in theaters this fall thanks to a long-gestasting film that speaks to her fascinating with wild true stories and asks one big question: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” And what a movie to remind people how talented Heller is, thanks to a notoriously nutty story and the canny casting of Melissa McCarthy in a role that demands drama.
Based on Lee Israel’s autobiography of the same name — and with a Nicole Holofcener script to boot — the film unspools the crazy story of Israel (McCarthy), once a lauded celeb biographer who turned to fraud and plagiarism when her coffers dried up. And it wasn’t just stories or books she faked, but letters from famous people, which she then sold to unsuspecting buyers (and when she couldn’t fake a good letter, she’d steal and sell a real one). It’s a story screaming for a movie from someone like Heller, who knows how to blend honesty with empathy at every turn.
The film also stars Jane Curtin, Richard E. Grant, Jennifer Westfeldt, Dolly Wells, and Anna Deavere Smith.
As Heller explained to EW, the film picks up in 1991 when Israel fell “out of favor with her editor, out of step with the times, can’t really pay her rent, has a bit of an alcohol problem, has a sick cat who has vet bills piling up, and finds herself needing to do something quick in order to make enough money to survive.” As the film’s first trailer shows, Israel soon hits upon a crazy new calling: forging famous letters.
Heller explained that she’s eager to get away from traditional biopic tropes, and this first look indicates this is hardly some stale look inside a past life. “There are pitfalls to biopics that are hard to get away from,” Heller said. “There’s an expectation that you’re doing a certain amount of journalistic storytelling that’s going to give an exact play-by-play showing someone’s entire life from cradle to grave. This does none of that.”
The film opens on October 19. Check out the first trailer for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” thanks to Entertainment Weekly, below.