Here's what's worth checking out at the cinema this month, including a handful of brilliant Oscar contenders...
Film of the month: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
She’s behind with rent, her ageing cat needs medicine, her dependence on alcohol is getting worse by the day and nobody’s buying her books. Lee Israel found herself amidst a particularly rough patch in the early 1990s, when her Estee Lauder biography proved to be a critical and commercial failure and publicists were refusing to give her an advance for a new book. Desperate times, as they say, require desperate measures, and so, Israel turned to a life of (very niche) crime, embellishing literary letters from famed wits like Noel Coward or Dorothy Parker and selling them for big bucks to book shops and collectors.
Melissa McCarthy delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Israel, proving she call pull off dramatic roles as easily as her “comedy goofball” template, and Richard E Grant is utterly delightful as her hedonistic friend, Jack, who balances out her neurotic, selfish ways with his charm and flamboyance. The duo’s portrayal of friendship is a thing of pure joy, alternating between vicious verbal abuse and deep affection.
It’s a sweet but biting and darkly funny comedy that’ll shroud you in a charming, old-timey world of authors, letters and typewriters, and keep you wildly entertained from start to finish with its whip-smart script and witty banter.
Working-class, Italian- American hustler Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) takes a job driving the distinguished African-American pianist, Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour of the American South in the 1960s, which, as he observes, “is going to be trouble.” And trouble it is. As Dr Shirley navigates his way through violent racism and prejudice, Tony never leaves his side, protecting him like a pit bull.
As expected, the mismatched heroes learn a thing or two about themselves from this journey and, more importantly, form a deep friendship. The formula is as old as time yet the charming, wholesome fashion in which it’s delivered will win over even the most bitter cynics.
Lucas Hedges stars as Jared—a young man who, when outed to his deeply religious parents as gay—is forced to join a conversion therapy programme. It’s a moving, at times scary film that relies heavily on its amazing cast; Lucas Hedges proves once again that he’s one of the most important rising stars around, Nicole Kidman is her usual flawless self as Jared’s ambivalent soccer mum Nancy, and Joel Edgerton (who also directed this film) brings a captivating, albeit troubling energy as the volatile programme director, Victor.
Boy Erased is an ambitious film—which is also its biggest problem. The scope of the narrative is so broad that it struggles to dedicate enough time and attention to individual characters and their relationships, which should have been the meat of the matter. Ultimately, it’s a worthwhile film, but will leave you hungry for more substance.
If Beale Street Could Talk
KiKi Layne and Stephan James will make you weak in the knees as the madly romantic couple, determined to make it work against all odds in this moving adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same title. Directed by Barry Jenkins, who made the Oscar-winning Moonlight, it’s a beautiful portrayal of love at its purest and most wholesome, playing out against the ugly background of racial injustice.
A Private War
Rosamund Pike brings out the big guns in this hard-hitting biopic of the Sunday Times war correspondent, Marie Colvin. Rocking a pirate eye patch and an impeccably cool New York accent, Pike really taps into the complexities of this influential journalist’s personality. At once a fearless reporter and a vulnerable woman, Colvin routinely risked her life in her pursuit of the truth, which ultimately led to her death in Syria in 2012. Though A Private War stumbles over some grating cliches every once in a while, it’s bound to keep you on the edge of your seat.