This excellent dark-tinged comedy tells the fact-based story of what happened when prickly writer Lee Israel’s career stalled: She started forging letters from literary figures to sell to collectors. We meet Lee (Melissa McCarthy) at age 51, living in depressed, boozy squalor in Manhattan. Desperate for income, she sells a letter she once received from Katharine Hepburn; then it’s a Dorothy Parker letter, goosing the value by adding an acerbic P.S. in Parker’s style. The ruse evolves from there, with Lee assisted by Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a flamboyant gadabout who shares her misanthropy and alcoholism. Directed by Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl), the story is about Lee’s halting efforts to become a less off-putting human being, so it doesn’t end with her scam being discovered, but continues through the aftermath so we can see the character’s arc completed. McCarthy gives Lee emotional depth, channeling her outsized comic sensibilities into a three-dimensional character, while Grant proves a fine counterpart. It’s a pleasure to see these broken characters help one another get better, but Heller makes sure the warm moments never interfere with the movie’s curmudgeonly heart.
Director: Marielle Heller
Producer: Anne Carey, Amy Nauiokas, David Yarnell, Jawal Nga, Pamela Hirsch and Bob Balaban
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro, Pun Bandhu, Marc Jackson, Erik Harvey, Brandon Jones, Shae D'Lyn, Rosal Colon and Anna Deavere Smith