Melissa McCarthy plays writer Lee Israel in the new movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?, based on Israel’s memoir of the same name. Set in the early 90s, the story finds Israel as she’s fallen on hard times and is no longer able to sale the kind of celebrity profiles that made her famous for the last 20 or 30 years.
One day she stumbles on a slick money making idea when she discovers a personal letter from a famous author stuck in a book. She sells that and realizes if she wrote more letters herself she could make even more. Along the way she’s helped by her friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Everything’s going great until the FBI gets wind of her scheme and the world comes crashing down.
The first poster took a familiar approach to selling the movie, placing McCarthy’s character as a small figure standing on a typewriter. There’s not much else happening here, with no supporting or explanatory copy or tagline. It’s just her standing on a vintage typewriter looking slightly befuddled. The design doesn’t even make it clear whether it’s a comedy or drama, which seems problematic.
Lee has fallen on hard times as the first trailer opens, selling some of her collection for cash because no one is buying her current books. Her agent tells her the future doesn’t look good but rent is due and she needs to make a living. When she comes across a letter from a famous author she tries to sell that but doesn’t get much because the content isn’t very compelling. That gives her the idea to begin forging other letters from other authors, which turns into quite the little scheme. Eventually it all catches up with her and the tap dries up, though her friend decides to pick up where she left off. Even when she’s caught she admits she had a good time.
What’s being sold is clearly a drama of hard times falling on talent people, but there are moments where it seems Searchlight couldn’t resist to use a comedic beat in the trailer. Maybe the movie is more darkly funny but I imagine it’s also an attempt to ease the audience in to accepting McCarthy as a dramatic lead.
Another short video came out in early October that cut the message of the movie down to its bare essentials.
Online and Social
You can get the basic information you’re looking for about the movie on its official website, which has backgrounds on the cast, director and the story along with the trailer. There are also Facebook and Twitter profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Online ads and promoted posts used videos and key art. There don’t appear to have been any actual TV spots run, but some of the videos shared on social media were about the same size and substance.
Media and Publicity
The first photo of a nearly-unrecognizable McCarthy kicked off the publicity campaign, showing her in character as Israel. Heller talked about the making of the movie, including the desire for it not to be lumped in as a “biopic” when the first trailer was revealed. Heller also talked here about the challenges she’s faced in her career but how she’s now poised to break into the big leagues with a string of upcoming high-profile projects. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.
The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as that of the Austin Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival. Those festival screenings created some pretty positive buzz for the movie as a whole and McCarthy in particular.
While there McCarthy had plenty of chances to talk about the pleasure of playing women who have no time to worry about being liked, the opportunity playing a straight dramatic part gave her to explore some darkness and more. She kept on that topic, pointing out characters don’t have to be likable to be interesting. Director Marielle Heller touched on the actress’s transformation as well.
A featurette including an interview with Heller, who offered the “elevator pitch” behind the movie that encapsulated the story and the people in it.
Two clips came out in the weeks leading up to release, one that had Israel and Hock meeting up at a bar and one that had Israel learning the FBI might be on to her operation and being shaken down for that information.
The NYT published a serious profile of McCarthy that hit all the same beats and talked about her career so far. That came along at the same time as stories like this that called out how oh, yeah, McCarthy is one of the most talented actors currently working. There were also a couple joint interviews with McCarthy and Grant talking about working together to create the dynamic of the era and some with Grant about the aggressively unlikable characters they play.
The campaign started off a little weak, but gained significant strength in the last month or so. Maybe that’s just because it’s been several months since the trailer initially came out, but once McCarthy was able to get out there and hype things up and some clips started rolling in, it became clear this wasn’t something that could be easily dismissed. That was helped by the good festival buzz generated among film critics.