Nov 13

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”: Writer Fakes It

The miracle is Melissa McCarthy, whose tortured portrait of disgraced celebrity author and convicted forger Lee Israel is the consummate performance of her career and the crowning achievement of her life. I have seen Can You Ever Forgive Me? twice, rubbing my eyes with astonishment and discovering something new and wonderful each time. This is my favorite film of 2018. Rex Reed, New York Observer

The thing is, film critic Rex Reed actually knew Lee Israel (1939-2014), the subject of Can You Ever Forgive Me? Below he summarizes her predicament, as presented both in her 2008 memoir subtitled Memoirs of a Literary Forger and this film:

Facing a mid-life career crisis fueled by writer’s block and the kind of boredom that drove her to a pattern of professional suicide, Lee was a drunk, a lesbian without love, and a cat lover who lived in filth without so much as a litter box for the droppings that piled up under her bed. Lonely and deeply in debt, with no tolerance for people, all of her old bridges burned behind her and no other skills to make a living, she starts going to parties to steal everything from rolls of toilet paper in the guest bathrooms to winter coats in the check room.

In addition, from Merryn Johns, Curve: “Even Israel’s own literary agent (Jane Curtin) detests her but nevertheless dispenses some sage advice at an elite Manhattan party: be nicer to people; write in your own voice—advice Israel dismisses to her own peril.”

What the prickly Israel embarks on instead is a crime spree, “forging literary letters by prominent writers,” in partnership with gay friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), also an alcoholic. As Tracy E. Gilchrist (The Advocate) reports, this happened in Manhattan during the early years of an emerging health crisis in the community, and Jack eventually died from AIDS-related complications. In the film he “flippantly informs Lee early on in their friendship, ‘I haven’t got any friends, they’re all dead’.”

Essentially, notes Gilchrist, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “a platonic love story between a gay man and a lesbian at a time when so many queer women answered the call to help their gay brothers.”

Many reviewers, though, emphasize the loneliness of the main characters:

Emily YoshidaVulture: “Loneliness, onscreen at least, tends to be a vibe, a #mood, a way of looking off into the distance as a certain kind of melancholy tune plays. In Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s screenplay, it’s a physical reality, a stench you live with until you are both used to it and loath to escape it.”

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian: “It is rare to see a film led by two gay characters over the age of 50 and there is a specific friendship they share; both are implicitly aware of the alternate routes they have taken in life partly as a result of their sexuality and both more explicitly aware of the loneliness that now hangs over them.”

Linda Holmes, NPR: “Israel is driven by a sense that the world should not treat her this way because it should not treat anyone this way, as if they are invisible, forgotten, unimportant.”

Watch the trailer below:

Jan 17

“Dallas Buyers Club”: Is It Worth Seeing? Scanning the Reviews

Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, among others. Is it worth seeing for the acting? The story? The “straight savior” angle? Or is the latter a turnoff?

The basic plot, from IMDB: “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.”

Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallick and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. According to Richard Corliss, Time, “Borten and Wallack based their script on hundreds of hours of interviews with Woodroof, then waited 20 years for the film to get made.”

After the “vocally homophobic antihero” (Peter Debruge, Variety) gets diagnosed, Woodruff proceeds to be helped by such folks as his physician (Jennifer Garner) and another AIDS patient (Jared Leto) who’s transgender.

The Main Performances

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “McConaughey is the only reason to see Dallas Buyers Club, but he’s enough of a reason to see Dallas Buyers Club.”

David EdelsteinNew York Magazine: “It’s difficult to talk about the beauty of Leto’s performance, because he just, well, is. The transformation is so complete—­physically and vocally—that it’s hard to believe he could ever be anything else. Rayon (née Raymond) is high on being Rayon, to the point where you sometimes forget that he’s dying, too.”

Woodruff as the “Straight Savior”

Peter DebrugeVarietybelieves that making Woodruff the main character in this movie “ensure[s] that no matter how uncomfortable audiences are with HIV or so-called ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they will recognize Woodroof’s knee-jerk bigotry as uncool. And thus, the film manages to educate without ever feeling didactic, and to entertain in the face of what would, to any other character, seem like a grim life sentence.”

This sentiment is echoed by Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s the story of a lout who finds redemption through unexpected motivation, becoming an accidental activist in the process and learning a valuable lesson in humanity about how to help others after it’s too late to help himself.”

The AIDS Crisis

I think it’s well worth noting that Mark S. King of HIV Plus Magazine gives the film high praise for its gritty depiction of the truth of AIDS.

A river of infected blood runs through it. So too does practically every other bodily fluid, along with bruises that won’t heal and purple skin lesions and flakes of dry, reddened skin. And that’s kind of beautiful. Because that’s what AIDS looked like in 1985, and it’s been ages since we have fully remembered it…

I have never seen AIDS shown this way in a film. And of all the movie portrayals of the disease, from Parting Glances to I Love You Phillip Morris, nothing else has captured the ugly physicality of AIDS like Dallas Buyers Club. Even the tearful hospital-bed goodbyes in Longtime Companion seem overly romanticized by comparison…

Jun 13

Gay Dads: “Fairyland” by Alysia Abbott

This weekend some gay dads will be honored for Fathers Day. Among these are the out gay partners á la TV’s now-cancelled The New Normal who jointly opt for parenthood together and there are the dads who, maybe not knowing they’re gay when they start to raise kids, do eventually come out.

Alysia Abbott‘s new memoir Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, chronicles a lifestyle in the 1970’s that included frequent moves, a lack of structure, and an artsy father, Steve, who battled drug and alcohol dependence and picked male partners who weren’t good for him. Meanwhile, Alysia believed it was her dad’s grief over the loss of her mom in a car accident that had made him “turn gay.”

From the book description:

As a child Alysia views her father as a loving playmate but as she gets older Alysia wants more than anything to fit in. The world, she learns, is hostile to difference.

In her teens, Steve’s friends—several of whom she befriended—fall ill as ‘the gay plague’ starts its rampage through their community. While Alysia is studying in New York and then France, her father comes to tell her it’s time to come home; He’s sick with AIDS. She must choose, as her father once did, whether to take on the responsibility of caring for him or to continue the independent life she worked so hard to create.

The memoir is written two decades after his death.

Selected Reviews

Kirkus Reviews: “What makes this story especially successful is the meticulous way the author uses letters and her father’s cartoons and journals to reconstruct the world she and her father inhabited. As she depicts the dynamics of a unique, occasionally fraught, gay parent–straight child relationship, Abbott offers unforgettable glimpses into a community that has since left an indelible mark on both the literary and social histories of one of America’s most colorful cities.”

Publishers Weekly: “…Abbott’s narrative balances idiosyncratic flourishes with universal emotions of anger, resentment, jealousy, and guilt. Decades after the fact, it is clear she continues to struggle with her failures as daughter and caregiver. Yet, her fragile resolution is more honest than a tidy, suggesting that the most’ outlandish’ parts of our stories—our own inadequacies—prove difficult to fully accept.”

Edmund White, author: “A vivid, sensitively written account of a complex but always loving relationship. This is not only a painfully honest autobiography but also a tribute to old-fashioned bohemian values in a world that is increasingly conformist and materialistic. I couldn’t put it down!”