Can You Ever Forgive Me?

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtain
Directed by: Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) and Jeff Whitty (debut)

When she’s not trying to act like the female version of Kevin James by using physical comedy as a crutch, actress Melissa McCarthy has made some satisfying inroads as a comedian in flicks like 2015’s “Spy” and her Academy Award-nominated turn in 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” This year, unfortunately, she struck out big with “The Happytime Murders” and “Life of the Party,” so it’s a welcomed career move to see McCarthy change things up a bit in the film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” her most dramatic role to date — and her most remarkable.

The character is well-matched to McCarthy’s self-deprecating wit and ability to make the flaws and vulnerabilities she brings to the role seem sympathetic, spirited and funny. In “Forgive Me?,” McCarthy plays late New York Times-bestselling author Lee Israel, known early in her career in the 1960s and ’70s as a magazine writer and celebrity biographer. Years later, Lee finds herself on the skids — living a lonely, drunken life with her cat, struggling to pay bills and getting the cold shoulder from her literary agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin), who thinks she’s past her prime.

Lee’s opportunity to resolve her problems, however, comes to her unintentionally when she discovers her talent for forgery. Utilizing her writing ability, she begins to pen fake, personal letters by deceased writers and actors (including their counterfeit signatures) and sells the correspondences to collectors and book stores around the New York City area. Later, she recruits a drinking buddy, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), to help her operate the small, illegal enterprise inside her apartment.

Directed by Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and adapted from Lee’s own 2008 memoir by screenwriters Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) and playwright Jeff Whitty, “Forgive Me?” uses a cynical and clever combination of dark comedy and drama that builds on the narrative’s stranger-than-fiction premise with a pitch-perfect tone.

As misanthropic partners in crime, Lee and Jack are incredible together as they create a peculiar platonic relationship with one another (both are gay) on a foundation of cheap Scotch, criminal activity and a sarcastic sense of humor. If there is a cinematic god, both McCarthy and Grant should earn Oscar nominations for their memorable performances, as should Holofcener and Whitty for their smart script.

Whether that occurs, “Forgive Me?” — as entertaining as she was in “Bridesmaids” or playing former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live” — is the type of work McCarthy will hopefully search out as she expands her range. In “Forgive Me?,” she proves that it’s easy to shed the goofball brand if you have the talent — and the desire.

Enough Said

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)

Imagine going on a first date with someone who instantly provided you with a hard-copy list of his or her bad habits and personality deficiencies even before you touched the appetizer. How much time would you save—and how many subsequent dinners could you skip over—if you automatically knew things weren’t going to work out because the seemingly normal person sitting in front of you likes to attend smooth jazz concerts and doesn’t recycle?

In “Enough Said,” a sharply written and moving romantic dramedy from director/writer Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”), the question is dangled in front of Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a single mom and massage therapist, who unknowingly becomes friends with the ex-wife of her new boyfriend Albert (James Gandolfini, in his first film released posthumously before the crime drama “Animal Rescue” premieres in 2014). When Eva begins to take full advantage of the situation by asking Marianne (Catherine Keener) about her failed marriage, her curious nature and lack of moral judgment backfires as she uses the information she receives to expect the worst from Albert without giving him much of a sporting chance.

Ironically, the familiar set-up sounds like something Elaine and Jerry would debate in an episode of “Seinfeld” (wouldn’t you want to know your date was a Nazi from the get-go?), so having Louis-Dreyfus at the center of the narrative feels almost natural even though her iconic Elaine character is nowhere to be seen. What we find instead is an emotionally complicated woman who digs herself too deep into a lie she can’t crawl out of to make amends. With her well-known comedic background, Louis-Dreyfus rarely gets the opportunity to put her dramatic talent on display, so uncovering those little moments in Holofcener’s compassionate script is terrific.

Also showing his range is the late Gandolfini, whose soft-hearted and vulnerable approach to Albert is impressive. His shared scenes with Louis-Dreyfus highlight Holofcener’s craftsmanship as a screenwriter. The dialogue is effortless as we watch Eva and Albert (both divorced and preparing to experience empty-nest syndrome) maneuver through their dates like a veteran quarterback would a pre-season scrimmage. They’re not trying to impress each other, but they still want to perform well enough to stay in the game.

With a perfect combination of understated humor and unpretentious drama, “Enough Said” is a sweet and oftentimes sad portrait of two middle-aged souls searching for happiness and comfort the way people used to do it before technology took away the human aspect of interface. Plus, knowing we’ll never get to see Gandolfini in another touching role like this makes all the difference when the screen cuts to black.

Nicole Holofcener – Enough Said

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

All it took was a meeting with actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini for filmmaker Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give,” “Friends with Money”) to know she had found the lead roles in her new romantic dramedy “Enough Said.” Although Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini had never played characters like the ones Holofcener had written (not to mention mainstream audiences usually think of Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine in “Seinfeld” and Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos”), she had unwavering confidence in their talent.

“I was interested in casting them because I thought they would play the parts really well,” Holofcener told me during a phone interview last week. “I think each of them was anxious to do something they hadn’t done before. They jumped at the chance. That made it all the more wonderful because we were all doing something new.”

In “Enough Said,” Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini play Eva and Albert, two middle-aged single parents who meet at a party and start to date. Both enjoy each other’s company and their conversations are never dull. The two also connect by the fact that both have a teenage daughter who is about to leave home for college, a rite of passage Eva and Albert are dreading. When Eva unintentionally makes friends with Albert’s ex-wife (Catherine Keener), she takes full advantage of the situation by asking questions about her failed marriage in an attempt to get a sneak peek at what might be down the road in her new relationship.

As a director, it must be refreshing to say you were able to cast someone in a role they have never done before. I mean, Tony Soprano probably wouldn’t be at the top of most filmmakers’ lists when casting a romantic comedy.

I know! People are so dumb! I’m lucky enough to have realized that [Julia and James] could do that. Meeting them helped. If [James] didn’t have those sparkling eyes and wonderful sense of humor, I might’ve hesitated more. But when I met him he seemed like Albert, so it didn’t seem like a leap; the same with Julia. When her name came up I thought, “Well, I’m not sure. I’ve never seen her do something like this.” But as soon as I met her, I was sold. She was emotional and hilarious and nothing like the characters she’s played. She was just Julia and that’s what I wanted.

Because actress Catherine Keener has been in all five of your feature films since 1996, is it important for you to cast her in a role that doesn’t feel like something she’s already done for you? How do you think you’ve been able to do that over the last 17 years?

(Laughs) I think that bit of casting for Catherine [in “Enough Said”] was more intentional. I didn’t want her to play the “Eva” part. She had played similar parts like that in my movies – the “me” character or the character that is based on me. I thought it would be fun for her to play this glamorous, narcissistic poet – the opposite of me, basically. She was game. She was happy to do it.

Is it a given during the casting process that Catherine is going to get a part in whatever film you’re working on? Do you know her well enough as an actress that she can bypass the audition?

(Laughs) Oh, yeah, she certainly does not have to audition. But it’s not a given. It’s kind of movie by movie. She knows that. I figured, she works with other directors, I should be allowed to work with other actors. (Laughs) We laughed about that. She feels happy if I offer her a part and I’m sure she’d be OK if I didn’t. It’s just turned out that each time I have.

I read the inspiration for this film came from you thinking about the foibles that drove your ex-husband crazy and the ones that drive your current boyfriend crazy. If they’re not too personal, can you share some of the things you do that are just so annoying?

(Laughs) Oh, god! They’re not too personal. The ones I cover in the movie are kind of superficial. I did used to leave snotty tissues all over the house. That drove my ex-husband crazy and understandably so. That was actually a line in the movie. [Eva and Albert] are having their first date and he’s taking about the guacamole and Eva goes into how her ex-husband used to hate her snotty tissues all over the house. But the scene was just too long so we cut it. It’s not something that bothers my boyfriend, although I think I’ve gotten a lot better at curtailing it and becoming more conscious of it. Oh, my ex-husband used to hate it when I watched trashy TV. We started dating right when the E! Channel first came on the air. I just couldn’t tear myself away. But I don’t do that anymore.

After I saw the film, I asked my wife if she would’ve liked to have known about all my bad habits when we first met 10 years ago and she said no. Is she lying? Wouldn’t most people want to know what they’re getting themselves into, even if you learn about little things that probably wouldn’t make or break the relationship?

(Laughs) I think that even if we were to know, being in love makes you so blind and stupid that they wouldn’t bother you in the beginning. If my boyfriend had told me, “Hey, I belch throughout dinner,” which is not true. I’m just making it up. I would’ve said, “Oh, that’s so cute!” But give someone two years of it and it’s not so cute anymore.

What do you think the ultimate goal is for someone who is middle aged and starting over in a new relationship like Eva and Albert? Do you think they still want to be swept of their feet or do they just want to be loved and comfortable?

I think once you’ve been married and divorced, you just want someone who is not insane. I think that’s the first goal. Hopefully, the person isn’t a creep. Then you want them to have a job. Then you want them to be in touch with their feelings. Then you want them to have been in therapy. Then you want them to be able to listen to you. It’s a combination of very rational wants. I think it’s different than the first time you fall in love. Being swept off your feet is good. Certainly you want physical chemistry. That never changes. But I think it’s different when you’re older. You’re desires and what you want in a partner change. You care less if they’re handsome or rich or fascinating. As long as you find them interesting, right?

It must be bittersweet talking about this film since James isn’t here to share in the celebration. When I saw the film, I just couldn’t kick the underlying feeling of sadness I had knowing we would never see him in a role like this again. He’s just so wonderful as Albert.

Yeah, I think less about his performances and am just sad as a human being that he’s not here and he died too young. I am, obviously, incredibly lucky I got to work with him. He blessed my movie with his performance. But I guess I think more about him having a little girl. Ultimately, who cares if he ever did another movie? He was just entitled to live longer.

You have twin sons who are 16 years old. How do you expect to react when they go off to college? Are you going to fall apart? Do you hope they stay close to home?

(Laughs) I don’t know how I’m going to feel. Obviously I’m afraid of it. Ideally, they will go off to college, but not that far away and we stay really close and I won’t have a nervous breakdown. That would be a good end result. I have this wonderful career, but my kids are still the focus of my life. It’s a very weird and unfair thing that they are supposed to grow up and leave you.

Is your filmmaking career going to be enough to keep you busy after they leave or do you think you’re going to have to pick up a couple of hobbies like Eva and Albert talk about?

(Laughs) I think I’m going to need some hobbies! I’m going to get more pets. Maybe I’ll get to shoot a movie in Europe or somewhere like that since I won’t be tied down. I’m going to continue knitting. Maybe I’ll learn how to do some more stitches. That’s probably about it.

Please Give

June 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt take advantage of other people’s misfortune in “Please Give,” a cutting, character-driven indie comedy about self-image, guilt and mortality that matches wits with recent films including Adrienne Shelly’s “Waitress” and Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages.”

As owners of a high-end antique shop in New York City, married couple Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt) have quite an eye for priceless old furniture, which they purchase for basement-low prices from the families of the recently deceased. Most people don’t want to worry about what to do with grandma’s armoire after she’s gone, so Kate and Alex, who certainly don’t reveal the actually value of the small treasures to the next of kin, scoop them up and make a pretty penny.

Their predatory approach to death isn’t limited to antiques. Kate and Alex are sort of waiting around for their stubborn, elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) to kick the bucket so they can expand on their apartment. Andra’s granddaughters, the passive Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the all-too-blunt Mary (Amanda Peet), know the neighbors are restlessly waiting, which makes for the awkward friendship they share throughout the film.

Riddled with guilt about how they make their living, Kate tries to set her conscience at ease by giving money to the homeless people she sees on the street. Her charity is not met with support by her young daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who isn’t happy her mother would rather give money to a stranger than buy her own insecure daughter the things she needs to feel better about herself (a $200 pair of designer jeans and pimple cream should do the trick).

While the narrative feels a bit forced at times, filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, who also made the small gems “Lovely & Amazing” and “Friends with Money,” develops the authenticity of the picture from the eccentric personalities she allows to share the screen. It’s through watching their gauche and sometimes irksome flaws clash together that makes “Please Give” such a delight.