What Lee falls into is no standard rapist enterprise, and her contingent confederate is not a standard underworld minion. For a time, a usually nonfeline messenger Lee can endure is Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a bon vivant of gigantic charm, no bound residence and obscure veteran bona fides. If Lee is a rent-stabilized Dorothy Parker, Jack is a couch-crashing Oscar Wilde — definitely ignorant of novel though naturally smart and good fun to be around. He’s diversion for anything, including sequence fraud.
The fraud arises by accident. Lee stumbles opposite — O.K., steals — a Fanny Brice minute and discovers that there’s a modestly rich marketplace for that kind of memorabilia in a city’s used bookstores. The problem is that a letters for sale are mostly boring, regular records valued especially for a famous signature. Lee sets out to urge a epistolary record (and boost a seeking price) by fabricating gorgeous missives from a likes of Parker, Lillian Hellman and Noël Coward. (The film’s pretension is a precious bit of mistake Parker.) It’s an elaborate grift, though also, she starts to feel, a literary art form in a possess right.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” destined by Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), is catnip for a bookish. It will also interest to anyone with nostalgia for a generally underappreciated epoch in New York history, when a high glorious felt a small scuffed, a civic canon had been postponed, and Manhattan abounded in bookstores and scabby happy bars. Enough of these are still around — including Argosy Book Store on East 59th and Julius’ on West 10th — to yield a film with locations and an atmosphere of lived-in worldly bohemianism. There were no Starbucks or co-working spaces behind then. A chairman could breathe, and read.
Partly since a film is so perfectly and totally engrossed in a characters and their milieu, it communicates most some-more than a quirky appreciation for aged books and peculiar readers. Ms. Heller and a screenwriters, Jeff Whitty and a good Nicole Holofcener, conflict a incentive to sermonise about Lee’s misdeeds or to silt down her severe edges. Like “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” that rubbed unfortunate element with beauty and good humor, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is conjunction judgy nor ethically neutral. Lee and Jack can be gleefully amoral, and will go to good lengths to clear their actions, though they don’t wholly miss demur or decency.