Quick Hit: Well-shot and better acted, this story has a full arc and yet at times feels lacking a small piece.
For those that remember Melissa McCarthy having diarrhea into a sink in Bridesmaids, many may have thought that a serious role was something that we wouldn’t have seen from her. Indeed, in the same year that she starred in a movie about a world where Muppets are in the world, she also starred in this very terrific film as Lee Israel, a biographer in the nineties that began to forge letters from famous people in order to avoid ending up on the street. Somewhere along the way, she meets Jack Hock (Ricahrd E. Grant), an aging gay man who is attempting to find his way across the New York without a real job or any attachments to the world. This perfectly pairs with Israel, who is also gay, if more closeted than the rather out Hock.
The film is directed by Marielle Heller, who previously did the film The Diary of a Teenage Girl. And seemingly without trying, she creates a seedy underworld of signed letters, autographed collectibles, and dark bookstores (as an epic nerd with a binder full of autographs I never would have thought I would say that statement). It’s not just the production design, it’s the way these areas are presented – slowly and casually, with none of the usual extra explanation that accompanies things in heist/crime films. It’s a really good presentation of how to build a film, where really there isn’t a lot of action to build it around.
But the real stars of the show are McCarthy and Grant. McCarthy is first shown on the scene in as unisex a haircut as possible, and she never gives up the role of somehow being invisible within the skin of Israel as a character. Her wit and charisma come through in the voiceovers of the different letters that Israel forges, but there is more depth than I have seen out of her before. This is never more evident than when she goes out on a dinner date with an owner of a bookstore, where slow flirtations develop before Israel spins backwards and away from the human connection that is forming. It’s a beautiful bit of acting that entails so many minute details that it’s very impressive.
This clashes and mixes beautifully with Grant’s portrayal of Hock – who is full of energy in nearly every moment. His joking tone almost never lets up, and he generates quite a bit of emotional reaction in one of the ending scenes in the film. When combined with Israel’s near-expressionless face, Hock’s grin seems to go for miles. Grant is wonderful as the fence for McCarthy, driving his British charm forward with all of the feeling necessary to complete his job, but never seeming too sleazy. This is key to his role, because if the audience hated him, there wouldn’t be enough to drive the movie forward with McCarthy’s development alone. Grant was the highlight of the movie for me, even though McCarthy was fantastic.
I thought the movie was good, but overall, there are some moments that drag a bit. I didn’t think that the film needed to dive into Israel’s past with her ex-wife, and at times it just all seemed a bit too clean for me (but the film is based on Israel’s autobiography about her crimes). I’m going to give it a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"