This film gained three Oscar and BAFTA nominations, for Melissa McCarthy, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, for Richard Grant, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for their screenplay, adapted from Lee Israel’s memoir about her crimes.
A deceptively slight biopic with McCarthy as the boozy, cat-loving writer who discovers a talent for forgery before experts get wise to her monkey-shines. McCarthy is simply stupendous as a bright, bored woman galvanised by financial insecurity. She never begs us to find Israel adorable, but nor does she overplay the character’s darker aspects. The result is wail-out-loud funny. She has always been epically mercurial. What’s changed is that the world is no longer blind to her range.
Israel’s partner-in-crime is posh British wastrel Jack Hock (played by Grant). Jack has raddled cheeks, pale-blue imperiously bulgy eyes, and looks great in a swishy cape (he’s the spit of Vanessa Redgrave). Grant is cannibalising his own turn in Withnail and I, aided and abetted by the film-makers (the real Jack was neither posh nor British). That Grant is coasting, however, doesn’t make his performance any less sublime.
Director Marielle Heller juxtaposes real-world locations and sordid details (look out for some maggot-infested cat poo!) with romantic lighting and cosy old-time music. She encourages us to think that Israel’s alcoholism and loneliness are illnesses that can be cured. But don’t be fooled.
Oscar Wilde said: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” This film takes an altogether different view of the imitation game. By embracing frauds and failures, it achieves greatness on the sly.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall