By Jeff Morris (Cincinnati, OH)
This movie was good, but it was not great. Perhaps the biggest strength of this movie lies in its ability to allow the viewer to empathize with the main character in the film, Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy). She is introduced to us as an alcoholic struggling writer from the opening scene of the film. Israel is working late in a publishing company on some papers with a drink beside her. She starts cussing at coworkers who yell at her over the cubicle walls about her drinking. Her cussing gains steam until she turns around to see that her boss standing there. She loses her job and we follow her home. Her cat is sick, and she needs to take the cat to the vet but she doesn’t have the money to pay off her past due balance. She goes home, and we learn that she is three months behind on her rent. We already know that she has lost her job. We already know that she doesn’t work well with others. We feel the hopelessness that she feels as she tries to figure out how to get by in life.
The next scene has Israel visiting her agent. We learn that at one time, Lee Israel was a biographer who had a book on the New York Times bestseller list. The agent tells her that there really isn’t anything for her and there are no advances on books in her immediate future. In order to get by, she decides to sell her prized possession, a letter that a famous person once wrote to her. Still short on money, she comes upon a couple of letters from a famous vaudeville actress in a library, which she takes and tries to sell. When she is told that the first letter won’t get her much money because it isn’t personal enough, she adds a post script to the second letter which increases the selling price of the letter immensely.
The remainder of the film details her life of crime as she forges letters from famous literary people. This storyline keeps the viewer enthralled throughout the movie, but there is nothing really special or groundbreaking about the storyline itself. On this level, it is just another story about a person down on their luck turning to crime in order to get by. What sets this movie apart from the myriad other films that do this is how the character of Lee Israel herself is presented.
As the film progresses, the depth of her character deepens and only becomes more interesting. There is the relationship that she shares with her cat, at first the only other living thing that she cares about. There is a friendship that she strikes up with a gay man named Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) which we experience from its inception to its end. There are her struggles with her own writing and her struggles with coming up with the book that she is ultimately supposed to write. There is depth to her character which help us to care and empathize with her throughout the entirety of the film.
Overall, there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about this film. In 5 years, it is my guess that this film will be largely forgotten. This being said though, the film is solid—both well-acted and well written.
Jack Hock: That’s me. The renegade, the rebel. Jack Hock, big c**k.
Lee Israel: I’m sure it’ll come back to me. How’s old life been treating you?
Jack Hock: I can honestly boast that I’m banned from Crosby Street Booksellers. I’m banned from Duane Reade. All of them. I have a little shoplifting problem. Well, it’s all in the past, but for some reason, I have a very memorable mug. And now I have to take a bus just to buy shampoo and aspirin and stuff. I’m joking. Duane Reade’s not the only rodeo in town.