**** (out of 4)
Lee Israel was a writer whose life story is at once cautionary and perversely compelling. Although her books had once been New York Times bestsellers, Israel found herself struggling to pay rent by the 90s. Desperate, she turned to forgery, writing and selling what she claimed were authentic letters by luminaries like Noël Coward and Edna Ferber. The FBI eventually tracked Israel down and slapped her with a five-year probationary sentence. But she ultimately got the last laugh: her exploits provided the basis for a fairly well-received memoir, and two of her forgeries even appeared in an official collection of Coward’s letters.
Israel’s life is the subject of Marielle Heller’s new biopic, Can You Ever Forgive Me? If you hadn’t actually seen it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is meant to be a sort of comedy.