“SOMEONE WOKE UP”
Ladies and gents,
I promised myself I wasn’t going to even delve into the political fray in today’s column, as I’ve been getting trolled relentlessly since going after Chuck Grassley and his not-so-merry (except for one obvious “Mary”) band of decrepit, evil goons in last week’s column. My inbox is filled with the most vitriolic filth you’ve ever seen, and I had to completely shut down my Twitter account (apologies to each of my 47 followers). But, with crushing midterm-polling-anxiety informing my every thought, staying off politics is going to be a challenge akin to getting a 14-year-old boy to stop thinking about sex. (Baseball … baseball … baseball…)
Last weekend I attended two screenings. The first one, Boy Erased — based on Garrard Conley’s memoir about his experience going through a gay conversion therapy program, I can’t talk about without breaking the rule outlined above. (I’m looking at you, Marcus Bachmann.) But the second one, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, is both a sheer delight and delightfully apolitical.
Melissa McCarthy stars as the late, New York Times bestselling biographer Lee Israel. Having fallen on hard times, Israel descends into a life of the most deliciously creative and witty crime you’ve ever witnessed, on screen or off. The film, like its protagonist, is equal parts dark and tender, funny and tragic. To borrow the praise Thomas McGuane gave Bright Lights, Big City, it has “a perfect power-to-weight ratio.”
The cast is similarly perfect, with Jane Curtin giving a stand-out performance as Lee’s agent that left me wondering why the hell she isn’t in everything. The buzz, though, will center around McCarthy, who is delivering the most nuanced and least overtly-comic performance of her career. I loved her. You can’t not love her. Melissa McCarthy is eminently lovable. Here’s the thing, though. I knew Lee Israel. We were, for a brief period of time, running in a similar circle (of anti-social literary drunks). And the thing about Lee was, she was not likable.
Once, Lee and I were at the same New Year’s party at Gay and Nan Talese’s townhouse. She showed up drunk and in a foul mood. I should mention that this was a New Year’s Day party, not New Year’s Eve, so this is early afternoon. Seated on a sofa, guzzling some brown spirit or another, she was loudly and cuttingly critiquing a fellow writer who was just a few feet away in a different conversation. I kept trying to shush her, worried the subject of her ranting would clue in to the fact that he was being roasted. Nevertheless, she persisted. (I couldn’t help it.) Though I found the scene upsetting, I couldn’t help but admire her fearlessness. She had a point-of-view, and she didn’t care who overheard it! And just as I was sitting there thinking about her fearlessness, I realized that one of her earlobes was bleeding. I grabbed her arm and pulled her into the powder room to show her the wound, and she fainted at the mere sight of the blood.
Nan, for some unknown reason, kept smelling salts in the guest room, so we had revived her within a few minutes. When she came to, it was as if all that rage had melted away in her sleep, and she was almost childlike in her demeanor. She asked for a glass of orange juice, and we helped her back to the sofa, where she spent the rest of the part admiring a large painting of a nude that served as the focal point of the Talese’s living room in those days.
I’ll never forget the two distinct sides of Lee Israel I saw that day. Had the producers of Can You Ever Forgive Me? found a less inherently likable actress, someone who would have played her closer to how Lee presented herself to the world, that lovable vulnerability would have been completely obscured. McCarthy found a deeper truth in Lee’s character. I guess sometimes you need to distort something in order to see it clearly.
Tidbits from around town…
Spotted Cardinal Timothy Dolan shopping at Barneys. “Capes and Headpieces on six.”
Overheard Parker Posey asking about the difference between two different glue guns at The League’s Art Supply Store.
Saw Matt LeBlanc enjoying a frozen fruit treat at Chloe.
As always a toast of something sparkling to you and yours!