★★★★ - NZ HERALD
- Oscar buzz is building around Melissa McCarthy's performance in this drama based on author Lee Israel's memoir.
Well known for her comedic work (Mike and Molly, Spy and Bridesmaids), the role of Lee Israel is a step in a more serious direction for McCarthy. She may not seem the obvious choice for this casting (Julianne Moore was supposedly attached to this film earlier) but by the time you leave the cinema you can't imagine anyone else doing so well.
She manages to bring gentle humour to an acerbic, antisocial and alcoholic character. Israel - who always spoke directly and wouldn't have minded me saying - isn't a terribly nice person or in a great place when we meet her. McCarthy manages to present a personality we sympathise with and can rally around.
Israel, who passed away in 2014, received a decent amount of success as an author in the 70s and 80s with biographies about journalist Dorothy Kilgallen and actress Tallulah Bankhead; then tanked her career by refusing to take her agent's advice or publicise her books in a way which would help rather than hinder sales.
Broke and unable to get anyone to take her calls, Israel stumbles across a scam to write letters by well known authors, such as Dorothy Parker and playwright Noel Coward, and sell them as authentic originals. As Israel tells the judge at her sentencing for fraud later on - it was some of her best work.
Israel is assisted in her life of crime by newfound friend Jack (Grant). Grant is also perfectly cast as the gay, charming and lovable rogue struggling to survive in New York in the early 90s. It's worth noting that not only has director Marielle Heller cast her film well, she's also captured time and place with wonderful authenticity.
This is a neat little film bringing to light Israel's fascinating story, with excellent performances making it an enjoyable literary romp.
- Francesca Rudkin, NZ HERALD