As a perpetual sucker for stories about writers, this film had been on my radar. It was all the more intriguing to learn that it was based on a true story by a woman named Lee Israel.
This is the third feature film by Marielle Heller. I’ve seen her first The Diary of a Teenage Girl and her third and latest A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and enjoyed them both. All three of these films offer very interesting and intimate portraits of their characters, but are films that, while I enjoyed and appreciated, probably won’t ever watch again.
Finally seeing this film, I completely understand why Melissa McCarthy was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She completely disappears into this role in a way I can rarely recall. I watched an interview with Heller where she approached Hanks at a party and got him to read the Mr. Rogers script. I’m sure that played a huge part in securing financing for the film. It makes me wonder if the script was shopped around and then McCarthy got a hold of it. Fox Searchlight has always been the distributors that, in my opinion, take the most creative ‘risks’ with diverse casting/stories, so I truly hope that doesn’t change with the Disney acquisition…
Here’s a trailer, as I won’t be doing a synopsis, but rather just some of my thoughts on the film:
I appreciate this film because we so rarely see leads like Lee Israel–an older, not conventionally attractive woman who has a lot of flaws. She curses, she’s an alcoholic, her apartment is a mess, her finances are a mess. The only bit of her apartment that’s organized is her writing desk and research, which is a nice detail.
She’s a pretty unlikeable character, and she knows that about herself–it’s actually a bit of a plot in the film, as it makes her unappealing as an author who publishers are trying to market and brand. But she acknowledges that she’s not interested in changing, that her work is good and that should be enough, that she is a person who hates people and only loves cats. So damn refreshing. For me this is the classic ‘if she were a man, she’d be praised for knowing what she wants and not taking shit from anyone’ vs the dreaded ‘unlikeable’ label we see thrown at assertive women.
This is the first film I’ve seen where the two leads are both gay, with Israel meeting her friend turned accomplice Jack Hock at a gay bar.
The thing I enjoyed the most about this film (while also finding the most heartbreaking) was that Israel didn’t regret forging letters, and felt that her writing was at its best and she was the most alive while creating them. I loved that she took joy in inhabiting other people–characters–and creating stories around them, researching them and crafting these micro-narratives in their voices. But it’s so, so sad that she hadn’t felt like she had that in her without these external sources. All of her books and writing up til then were biographies–nonfiction, research-driven. I guess this was sort of the first bit of ‘creative’/fiction writing she’d done, as she didn’t think she could do that. Turns out she could, just maybe not with the best intentions.
This is film 2 in my 52 Films By Women 2020 challenge.