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Film reviews: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Chemistry lesson: Richard E Grant and Melissa McCarthy are the making of Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Can You Ever Forgive Me?

(15) ★★★★★

RICHARD E GRANT and his Cheshire Cat grin went viral last week as they gleefully celebrated his first Oscar nomination, aged 61, for his turn as Jack Hock, an alcoholic Englishman in 1990s New York. Legions of Withnail & I fans celebrated with him. It felt like pleasing, long-overdue recognition for that cult role Grant first played 30 years ago.

Aside from both being alcoholics, Grant himself protests these two characters are vastly different. Still, most will find more than a snifter of Withnail about his best supporting actor turn as the roguish, on-his-uppers Hock, who befriends Lee Israel (also Oscar-nominated Melissa McCarthy), an embittered, equally broke writer in the mould of Radio 4’s Ed Reardon.

The two unlikely chums, both gay, wallow in mutual loneliness and cheap whisky until Lee stumbles on a new revenue stream: forging letters by the likes of Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker, and flogging them to collectors. For a while she uses Jack as a fence — but then their antics catch the eye of the FBI.

On paper, this shouldn’t work. That it does, beautifully, is both testimony to the smart and witty Oscar-nominated script, co-written by Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money) and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), and the chemistry between McCarthy and Grant, so perfect it creates a queer kind of romcom.

Grant is irresistible as ever but this is also McCarthy’s finest role to date. She always finds a soft-centred vulnerability within the sourest characters. You feel for Lee Israel as she wails: ‘I was supposed to be something more than this, wasn’t I?’, even if you’d cross the road to avoid her in real life.

A poignant and tender caper that doesn’t sugar-coat its protagonists with redemptive Hollywood schmaltz, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a dirty martini of a movie you’ll want to savour. As Withnail and, in one notable moment, Jack would both say: ‘Chin-chin!’

The verdict

Withnail In Manhattan, anyone? Oscar nominations all round in a witty literary caper.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

(PG) ★★★★✩

WITH How to Train Your Dragons 1 and 2 grossing more than $1billion worldwide, it must have taken stiff resolve to announce that this is the ‘final film’ in this animated franchise. It’s appropriate, however, for a story that’s all about letting go of those you love.

Our gangly, one-legged anti-hero, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), is set on finding the ‘hidden world’ where dragons and men — and women: there are three strong but secondary female characters — can co-exist peacefully. Obstacles to this include F Murray Abraham’s dastardly dragon hunter and the fact Hiccup’s steed, Toothless, has fallen for a fellow night fury.

For all the spectacular fight/flight action set pieces, it’s this courtship that most enchants. The heart is strong with this franchise and given there are 12 books in Cressida Cowell’s original multimillion-selling series (and a dragon’s hoard of cash yet to ring out of them), I doubt it’s actually the last we’ll see of Hiccup et al.

Green Book

(12) ★★★★✩

DESPITE five Oscar nominations, Green Book is one of those films generally sniffed at by critics but embraced by audiences. I have to say, I loved it. Driving Miss Daisy in reverse, it casts Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen against type with finger-lickin’ good results.

It’s 1962 when unrefined ex-bouncer Tony (a fattened-up Mortensen) is hired as a driver to the ultra-refined Don Shirley (Ali), one of the US’s foremost classical pianists. Shirley is determined to do a tour of the racially segregated Deep South so his record company sends him off armed with Tony’s muscle power and the titular Green Book, a mid-century guide to the only motels and restaurants that would accept African-Americans.

There are a few cheesy moments as the two men learn life lessons from each other but the acting is a joy, the co-stars coaxing complexities from their characters. This compelling journey is based on real events and has raised controversies but it’s a remarkable, funny and heartwarming story of an extraordinary friendship.