The story of Lee Israel and how she became famous by forging works of deceased authors.
Balanced And Nuanced;
Great Writing And Direction;
And McCarthy Shines.
This is a great example of a writer, director and star being in lock-step and working together beautifully to accomplish a shared vision. The character of a hard-drinking, mean-spirited plagiarist isn’t one that the audience should sympathize with or root for, but that’s all you will find yourself doing for 107 minutes. It isn’t just McCarthy’s charm that achieves this, as the entire film is approached with a cautious understanding and never paints Israel in a overtly negative way, even when she is committing serial fraud. The script, which is very well-written, paints a painfully real picture of urban loneliness and the type of nearly total, self-induced isolation that sees someone care far more for a cat than her own possible jail sentence.
McCarthy shows wonderful range, giving us some genuine laughs and moving us to tears moments later. You feel for her and want her to succeed, even when you know she is immoral. She is helped along beautifully by Richard E Grant, a man with charisma so pronounced you may as well be wearing 3D glasses. Equal parts witty and wicked, he is the perfect companion because he is game for anything and keeps her in check with his own sense of humor. They are a great odd couple and their polar opposite personalities compliment each other perfectly and make for some really great scenes together. They have a lot of chemistry and it shows every time they share the screen. I cannot say enough positive words about McCarthy and Grant’s portrayals of Israel and Jack Hock and how much fun it is to watch them interact.
What makes this so impressive is how much it accomplishes in under two hours. It is funny, sad and poignant, with no emotion ever coming at the expense of another. It shows a side of early-90’s New York City that isn’t permeated by corporate logos, retaining a bit of the old world that has long since died out. It’s a throwback without ever feeling like a period piece. It examines what it’s like to be utterly surrounded by people and feel completely alone, but still retain some humor about it so as to never browbeat the audience. It’s steady artistic vision rallies you behind an unlikable character and provokes some genuinely interesting conversation about the nature of art and its perception. Israel was forging documents, sure, but the words were her own being passed off as those of other, more famous writers. In a sense, they were wholly original pieces that people paid for because of the name, rather than the content. What matters most in terms of art, the name or the work? Israel believed herself to be better version of some of these artists than they ever were, and you can see her point of view as people rabidly buy up her forgeries. After all, sometimes it’s just plain fun being bad.
If this is playing in a city near you, it is absolutely worth the ticket price and I highly recommend it!