Greg and Zanna work through some feelings about fakes.
Commercial appeal of facts: 1
Commercial appeal of lies: 5
Half way through Can You Ever Forgive Me? Greg said "Is that Melissa McCarthy?" Referring to the woman who had been in every scene since the film started and on whose Academy Award nomination my suggestion to watch the film was based. "I thought she was a comedian?" My ever-insightful husband was, almost 50 minutes into the film, feverishly trying to wrap his head around the fact that McCarthy, a comedic actress, was not playing a comedic role.
To be fair to Greg and his undiagnosed face blindness, this film was an enormous departure for McCarthy. There was no explosive diarrhoea in a bridal shop sink or being ludicrously possessed by a ghost with a vendetta. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is McCarthy's The Truman Show and it proved once again that comedy is harder than drama. I know, I know, it's not that simple but regardless McCarthy effortlessly nailed this part.
The film is based on the true story of writer Lee Israel, who after writing several successful biographies, finds herself unable to get her next book off the ground and almost destitute. Then she discovers she can forge letters from famous historical figures and sell them for a premium. And so she does, with increasing enthusiasm.
On the premise alone, the film sounded vaguely interesting - how exciting can it be to watch two hours of someone forging documents? - but it exceeded all expectations. The feature film directorial debut of Marielle Heller, the film is deftly moody and a beautifully drawn character study of a woman in crisis. It paints a romantic ideal of the writers' New York - something Greg and I are embarrassingly easily seduced by - made more dreamy by the jazz-heavy soundtrack. There's a reverence for the literary world and, set in 1991, an abundance of independent bookstores - the value of the literary artefact not yet pummeled by Amazon.
Afterwards, Greg hounded me remorselessly to come up with something profound about what the film has to say about creativity, and how that relates to me. I didn't take kindly to being shoehorned so will say nothing on that, out of spite. Instead, I'll say one could see this either as a story about an embittered writer turned con artist or a resourceful woman using the skills she has worked hard to attain to get by in a thankless world. I choose to think of it as the latter - that's something I can relate to. I wait with bated breath for what my brilliant husband has to say about the nature of creativity and how his troubled artist's soul relates to that.
This movie is an admonition not to hide one's light under a bushel, even when that light is likely to land you in jail. Or: It is better to have forged beautifully than to have written boringly. The central character, author Lee Israel, hates most people, including herself, and is willing to tell almost anyone to f*** off at any time, including her literary agent, who is just trying to help and actually has a lot of good advice on how she might reignite her flagging career.
The morning after watching the movie, I tried to talk to Zanna about it, but I'd barely started when she interrupted to say, "You've got an enormous booger." Before I could express my exasperation, one of the kids asked me to do something, and when I returned Zanna said, "Are you going to deal with that booger or make us all look at it?"
After the kids were gone, I texted her from my place of work in the bedroom: "Did the movie teach you anything about creativity?"
She wrote back, from the kitchen: "Well, just that creativity can be stifled by our unwillingness to be vulnerable / our inability to reveal our true selves. In some ways it was a bit derogatory towards writers of biography, which is a valid creative endeavour itself, but they made out that it was a cop out. I guess, giving it the benefit of the doubt, they weren't necessarily saying that in a generalised way, but in her case she was hiding behind biographies."
I replied: "What you're doing there is giving an intellectual exegesis. What I want you to do is explore your feelings."
She replied: "Do you want me to tell you that she reminds me of myself?"
I wrote: "Does she?"
She wrote: "Why are you so concerned with my feelings? Why don't you explore your own?"
I don't find it a struggle to share my feelings. I felt the movie was a rallying cry for even the most isolated among us, to show that there are ways for all of us to find our voice in the world. But we weren't talking about my feelings.
Exasperated by her unwillingness to engage emotionally, I called out, "What did it make you feel?" even though I had quite a sore throat. She began to answer, but again her answer was framed descriptively rather than introspectively.
I interrupted and said: "Rather than, 'It was,' start with, 'I feel'."
"God!" she said, "I hate having you working at home!"
In the distance, I heard a door close.