2018 Awards Profile: Marielle Heller’s ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ from Fox Searchlight

FILM: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
PRODUCERS: Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell, and more
DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight

DIRECTOR: Marielle Heller
WRITERS: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Anna Deavere Smith, Jane Curtin, Jennifer Westfeldt, Julie Ann Emery, Marc Evan Jackson, Joanna Adler, and more

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): The true story of bestselling celebrity biographer (and friend to cats) Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), who made her living in the 1970s and ’80s profiling the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack.


When comedians get serious, a lot of times the Academy takes notice. Melissa McCarthy already has an Oscar nomination under her belt for a comedic performance (“Bridesmaids“), so she’s ahead of the game. Playing a true life criminal, especially this unconventional one, should showcase even more range from the actress. That could be Academy Award catnip. Voters will have her on their radar, so a knockout performance may very well put her in line to win Best Actress, not just score another nomination.

Fox Searchlight seems high on this film. As an anecdote, last year at their holiday party, there was already a Teaser (it might have even been the Trailer) playing on a wall in one room. It was among their 2017 awards players, so they were priming the pump. Perhaps that’s just a business decision, but it felt like there was some confidence at play. Without any other obvious awards players to handle at this moment, all of their attention could be on this one. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” will certainly benefit is Searchlight is all in on its chances.

If “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” was a jumping off point to stardom for Marielle Heller, then this movie could be what really gets her mass acclaim. Taking over a project that Nicole Holofcener once wanted to make (she retains a screenplay credit with Jeff Whitty), Heller has an ace up her sleeve with McCarthy. Throw in a supporting cast that includes Richard E. Grant in a supporting turn that looks ready made for some voters to embrace it and that’s a good beginning.

The combination of actress, filmmaker, and studio make “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” one to keep on your radar. It may turn out to be only a Best Actress player, but even so, that makes it a player. Throw in the fact that a Trailer is already available for this one, and there’s some confidence brewing. Less of an unknown than most other 2018 releases, the film has a leg up in that regard. If it has the overall goods, watch out, especially with Fox Searchlight steering the ship.


Not all attempts at drama from comedy actors and actresses succeed. McCarthy has had solid luck so far, but never when headlining a picture. Rightly or wrongly, some members of the Academy might not take her seriously yet. That’s a shame if so, but a legitimate concern, especially from some older male voters. They’re slower to embrace actresses in general who don’t conform to their expectations, so that’s another hurdle to jump over. It’s not insurmountable, but it’s an X factor issue that could hold “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” back.

One can also consider if this will end up as Fox Searchlight’s big bet or not. Right now, it is by proxy, especially with only “The Favourite” also on the docket as a film to push. What that means, at least in my eyes, is that Searchlight is going to be looking for a movie or two to acquire later on in 2018. Anything they pick up late in the year with Oscar potential will become their baby. That extra TLC that something like this movie needs would go elsewhere, creating an extra issue to fight through.

Unlike most films in this Awards Profile series, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” already has a Trailer to pour over, as mentioned above. This first look at the movie shows that Grant and McCarthy could be contenders, but little else seems to be. Now, this is just surface level observations, but it could be an uphill battle for this one. The more we see of it, the better we’ll know. An October release, it’ll play some sort of film festival, more likely than not. Then, we’ll have a better answer.

At this stage, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is worth considering for McCarthy, without question, but nothing surefire anywhere else. Films hitting in the fall don’t usually have Trailers for the start of spring, so either Fox Searchlight is super confident, or they’re trying to sell this one extra hard. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to follow along and see how it all turns out.


Motion Picture – Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell, etc
Director – Marielle Heller
Actor in a Leading Role – Melissa McCarthy
Actor in a Supporting Role – Richard E. Grant
Adapted Screenplay – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
Production Design – Stephen H. Carter
Cinematography – Brandon Trost
Film Editing – Anne McCabe
Makeup & Hairstyling
Original Score – Nate Heller