The Reel Review

B

This is the true story of former New York Times bestselling celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who, after falling on hard times, forged more than 400 celebrity letters in the early 1990s – peddling the fake memorabilia to buyers across New York until her arrest three years later.

Despite a story that features a pretty unlikable main character, director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) expertly captures Israel’s loneliness and desperation, while laying out, with Israel’s vintage typewriters, aged letterhead and all, just how she did it.  Both Melissa McCarthy (in a rare, serious role) as the cantankerous, cat-loving loner and Richard E. Grant as her air-headed, extravagant gay bestie and partner in crime, deliver noteworthy, realistic performances. But the adapted screenplay from co-writers Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty has a paint-by-the-numbers feel to it, never delving into the basis of Israel’s failed relationships – perhaps there just wasn’t much to tell. The ultimate irony is that Israel’s memoir, which The New York Times hailed as a “pretty damned fabulous book,” would become her biggest success as a writer.

REEL FACTS

• Originally Julianne Moore was to star in the film, but when she backed out over creative differences, Ben Falcone, who was already cast as one of the memorabilia dealers, suggested his wife Melissa McCarthy for the lead role.

Lee Israel with the two forged Noel Coward letters that made it into the first edition of 2007’s The Letters of Noel Coward memoir.

• Lee Israel, who died of cancer at age 75 on Christmas Eve of 2014, says the more than 400 stolen, altered and forged celebrity letters were the most important achievement of her career.

One of Lee Israel’s faked letters, pretending to be from Dorothy Parker.

• After serving six months house arrest for her crimes, Israel worked as a copy editor for Scholastic magazines and penned her final book, the 2008 memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, detailing her years as a literary forger.

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