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:

Jun 28

Fat Shaming, Fat Phobia: Three New Books

Several new books by women address the prevalent issues of fat shaming and fat phobia and the sometimes contradictory feelings and attitudes they engender.

I. Hunger

Roxane Gay self-describes as “super morbidly obese.” Her new book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, called “ferociously honest” by the LA Times, stands out for the connection she makes between being gang raped at 12 and her ensuing desire to build a body that would avert further assault.

As told to Terry Gross, NPR,  “I grew up in this world where fat phobia is pervasive. And I just thought, ‘Well, boys don’t like fat girls, so if I’m fat, they won’t want me and they won’t hurt me again.’ But more than that, I really wanted to just be bigger so that I could fight harder.”

But, as with most childhood defense mechanisms having origins in trauma, it no longer serves her so well.

I would definitely like to tear down this wall I’ve built around myself, because I don’t need it anymore. And I know that intellectually, and on good days, I know that emotionally. I don’t want to be thin, I want to be smaller, because I just do. I think it makes so many things easier just on a day-to-day basis, and also I have no small amount of vanity, so I just want to be able to find cuter clothes. Sometimes it’s really basic things that I would like for myself.

Not exactly at peace, Gay now states, “I’ve told my parents many times that I’m as over being raped as I’ll ever be. It’s 30 years later. It’s not fine, but I’ve dealt with it. I’ve gone to therapy, I have worked through those issues. But I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome the ways in which I was treated for daring to be fat” (Sarah Rose Etter, Vice).

To everyone’s detriment, media portrayals of large women are still sorely lacking, Gay points out. “I don’t think we have yet seen a movie where a fat woman was treated with dignity. All too often, she’s the funny woman, and her sexuality is jokey, like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. She was sexual, but it was part of a joke” (Janelle Okwodu, Vogue).

II. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

The title goes right to the fat shaming words.

Melissa McCarthy is actually one of the featured subjects in Anne Helen Petersen‘s essay collection Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. Megan Garber, The Atlantic: “…McCarthy embodies the conflicting messages American culture sends to fat people—and fat women, in particular: You’re contributing to a nationwide health epidemic, but also love yourself! Because you’re beautiful just as you are.”

III. This Is Just My Face

Another actress who’s received undue attention for her size is Gabourey Sidibe, whose new memoir is This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare. Incidentally, like McCarthy, Sidibe has recently chosen to shed weight but doesn’t want her body size to be the main thing she or others focus on.

A few notable quotes from the book:

…I thought that if I could just get the world to see me the way I saw myself, that my body wouldn’t be the thing you walked away thinking about.

It seems as though if I cured cancer and won a Nobel Prize someone would say, “Sure, cancer sucks and I’m glad there’s a cure, but her body is just disgusting. She needs to spend less time in the science lab and more time in the gym!”

My beauty doesn’t come from a mirror. Never has and never will.