The makers of CanYouEverForgiveMe? have more affection for its central character than she has for anyone other than her beloved cat. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty succeed in not making that decision seem like a forgery as they delve into what made Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) behave that way. Based on a true story, Lee is a New York loner in the early 1990s. She’s a writer of biographies whose best work is in the rear view. Her exasperated agent (Jane Curtin) advises her to explore other career paths.
That’s not in the cards for Lee. When she sells a handwritten note from her former subject Katherine Hepburn to go on the collectibles circuit, it dawns on her that it’s easy money. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t have other pricey artifacts from celebrities lying around. So she forges them. The letters come from Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker, among others. This allows her to pay the rent. It also allows her a creative writing exercise that scratches her itch.
Lee’s partner in crime is Jack (Richard E. Grant), an aging and flamboyant drug dealer who gets through life due to his bright blue eyes. They share a love of alcohol and a lack of empathy for others. They never fully trust one another. Yet Jack comes closer to actually being liked occasionally by Lee over anything other than the feline persuasion.
We’ve seen how strong of an actress McCarthy can be, especially with her Oscar nominated turn in Bridesmaids. Her slew of headlining comedies that followed have sometimes wasted her talents. This is a different story. While there’s plenty of sardonic humor sprinkled throughout, this is her most dramatic turn. Lee is an unpleasant person to be around. Because of McCarthy’s considerable talents, she’s definitely not unpleasant to watch. She’s matched in quality by Grant, who’s terrific.
CanYouEverForgiveMe? is unique in that it doesn’t paint a criminal that’s particularly regretful of her actions. After all, it gives her a way to knock out any pesky writer’s block. The screenplay is clever in not over explaining Lee. We eventually see that much of her behavior comes from a deep place of loneliness. It’s telling that she only seems capable of focusing on subjects she never knew who came from a different era that she considers better. She can’t connect with potential women who could be partners or really anyone else. Lee does find a connection with Coward and Parker and makes their missives more entertaining. If only that kind of thing wasn’t illegal. However, it gives Lee Israel one final fascinating tale. And it’s at last about her.
Melissa McCarthy is back in theaters after a two-year absence when Life of the Party debuts next weekend. The comedy marks her third collaboration with her husband/director Ben Falcone after 2014’s Tammy and 2016’s The Boss. It’s her first appearance onscreen since the Ghostbusters reboot in the summer of 2016. The pic casts her as a divorced mom who goes back to college and ends up in the same class as her daughter. Costars include Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Jacki Weaver, Julie Bowen, Matt Walsh, and Stephen Root.
The previous efforts of McCarthy with Falcone has yielded results in the low 20s at the box office. Tammy opened to $21 million with an eventual gross of $84 million. Two years later, The Boss premiered with $23 million and $63 million overall. It certainly is possible that Life could start out in the same range, but I could also see this falling just a tad lower.
I’ll project Life of the Party doesn’t quite reach $20 million, which should easily be enough for it to place second to the third weekend of Avengers: Infinity War.
Life of the Party opening weekend prediction: $19.4 million
There’s a through line that’s marked a number of Melissa McCarthy vehicles since her Oscar-nominated turn in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Take the greatly talented comedic actress, give her a mostly unpleasant character, establish a backstory that makes her somewhat sympathetic, and hope audiences eat it up. These rules have generally applied to IdentityThief, TheHeat, and Tammy. None of them have been terribly impressive due to weak material. This applies to TheBoss as well.
Reuniting with her Tammy director Ben Falcone (who’s also her husband), McCarthy is self-made mogul Michelle Darnell. She’s a ruthless investor who sells out arenas with her take no prisoners business advice. Kristen Bell is Claire, her overloaded executive assistant who isn’t even allowed that lofty sounding title. When Michelle’s actions land her a short stint in Club Fed for insider trading, she’s back to square one and dependent on her old subordinate for lodging. That means crashing on the sofa in a crowded apartment with Claire’s young daughter (Ella Anderson). A trip with that child to a Girl Scout type meeting gives Michelle her first post felony money making idea: take Claire’s delicious brownie making skills, market them with a team of cute kids selling them, and work her way back up the corporate ladder.
Along the way, Michelle clashes with some of her new minions parents (most humorously with Annie Mumolo’s tightly wound Mom). These clashes even lead to an Anchorman style no holds barred brawl (Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producers). The title character also deals with some of her own movie backstory demons. When she was young, Michelle bounced from one unhappy foster home to the next and has no sense or need in her view for family. Claire and daughter threaten to upset that apple cart.
There’s also the matter of her business rival Renault, former lover and wannabe samurai Renault (Peter Dinklage) trying to shut her burgeoning brownie enterprise down. His character is as bizarre as he sounds, but the “Game of Thrones” star does throw himself into it with gusto. A superfluous subplot involves Claire trying to get her groove back with a kind co-worker (Tyler Lapine).
TheBoss veers between wildly broad characters and physical comedy (which McCarthy and her stunt double are quite good at) and attempts at heart string pulling that falls flat. McCarthy’s abilities were proven nearly six years ago in one Bridesmaids scene where she told Kristin Wiig to get her act together. It was a brilliant scene that I suspect is responsible for that Oscar nod. Unfortunately, by now, McCarthy’s act is getting disappointingly familiar and the material she’s giving herself is forgettable.
Melissa McCarthy’s first comedy of 2016 is her second most anticipated of the year as The Boss debuts next weekend. Directed by her hubby Ben Falcone (who also made 2014’s Tammy), his wife plays a member of the 1% guilty of insider trading trying to rehabilitate her image. Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, and Kathy Bates costar.
Since her breakout role in 2011’s Bridesmaids, McCarthy has been a force in the genre. 2013’s Identity Thief made $34 million out of the gate while that same year’s collaboration with Sandra Bullock, The Heat, earned $39 million. The aforementioned Tammy took in $21 million over the July 4th, 2014 three day weekend with a $33 million five-day haul. Last summer’s Spy opened to $29 million.
Her comedies have proven to be mostly critic proof (Tammy was met with derision) and that should apply here. However, I’m a little skeptical that this reaches the mid-high 30s heights of her largest openers and I’d be somewhat surprised if this one tops $25 million. That is not likely to be the case with July’s eagerly anticipated Ghostbusters reboot that McCarthy is featured in. For The Boss, low to mid 20s seems to be the strongest probability.
The Boss opening weekend prediction: $23.4 million
Jason Bateman is such a likeable actor and presence on screen that he manages to generate sympathy for his mostly unlikeable character he portrays in Bad Words. The picture marks his directorial debut and Bateman shows ability behind the camera. Unfortunately Bad Words is hampered by a mixed bag of a script by Andrew Dodge that is often tonally challenged.
Guy Trilby (Bateman) is a 40 year old man whose maturity is so stunted that he’s taken it upon himself to enter spelling bees for children. He’s found a loophole in the tournament guidelines stating that no participant can have graduated 8th grade by a certain date. Trilby is a dropout. And, yes, he’s one hell of a speller. He’s also a profane and self-serving jerk who goes to great measures to torment his prepubescent competitors and psych them out. Trilby is being trailed on his mission to win The Golden Quill national spelling bee by an online reporter (Kathryn Hahn) telling his unique and unconventional story. Her mission, like the audience’s, is to discover just why Trilby is doing what he’s doing. The two also have a romantic relationship, though that might be straining the definition of the word romantic. It’s more of a sexual relationship out of convenience and boredom.
Along the way, Trilby strikes up a friendship with Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a young boy who will be his main competition. In rather obvious fashion, Trilby shows Chaitanya an inappropriate good time and shows him a different side of life than his strict upbringing which involves studying words constantly. Their friendship does provide some raunchy moments that are good for some decent, if familiar, laughs.
Bad Words shows us the understandable bewilderment of the children’s parents whose kids are being systematically taken out by Trilby and Rachael Harris (of “The Daily Show”) has some funny moments as one of the parents. There’s also the characters of the bee’s Chairman (Philip Baker Hall) and director (Allison Janney). Their two characters shine a light on some of the script problems. Both are one-dimensional and poorly written and they serve only as “villains” getting in Trilby’s way. A better screenplay might have attempted to flesh out their roles.
It’s an accomplishment of Bateman’s acting abilities that we manage to not completely hate his character. When we do finally find out just why he’s participating in the bee, it’s not much of a surprise and it doesn’t exactly ring the emotional bell that it’s meant to. What we’re left with is a very solid performance from Bateman and occasional laugh out loud moments that come mostly from conventional R rated comedy clichés. So to define in a sentence whether you should see Bad Words – You’re not missing out on much if you don’t.
The Fourth of July holiday weekend will inform us as to whether or not Melissa McCarthy’s box office hot streak keeps rolling along with Tammy. Three summers ago, her supporting role in Bridesmaids earned her accolades and even an Oscar nomination. In 2013, Identity Thief with Jason Bateman opened to $34.5 million and The Heat with Sandra Bullock debuted to $39.1 million.
Tammy, more than any other McCarthy pic yet, rests on her shoulders. It is co-written and directed by her husband Ben Falcone and costars familiar faces like Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, and Dan Aykroyd. Yet there’s no doubt the trailers and TV spots are focused on its star. McCarthy is one of the few comedic performers who can open a feature… or at least probably do so. Reviews aren’t out yet and it wouldn’t be surprising if they were mixed or negative. However, that didn’t hurt Identity Thief one bit and it likely won’t affect this.
This opens over the Fourth of July weekend so I’ll predict its traditional Friday-to-Sunday haul and its five-day take from its debut on Wednesday, July 2. Ultimately I believe Tammy will manage to earn in five days just over what The Heat did last summer. That should put it comfortably at #2 over the holiday after Transformers sophomore weekend.
Tammy box office prediction: $27.3 million (Friday-to-Sunday), $42.9 million (Wednesday-to-Sunday)
For my Deliver Us from Evil prediction, click here: