A lowkey, melancholy, assured film carried by two excellent, truly lived-in performances from Mellisa McCarthy as a spiky author caught in the cycle of loneliness, and Richard E. Grant as a former pretty boy now in his fifties and struggling with life catching up to him.
The story of the film is both real in actual fact, and predictable enough that the film never really pulls any surprises, nor does it ever need to, as the slow examination of character is what drives it. While there’d have been nothing necessarily worse with a more visible approach to the sexualities of the characters, the way the film plays it so matter-of-fact and understated is fascinating, and in keeping with how much the characters leave unvoiced.
It’s fascinating for how much the film directly revolves around inauthenticity that the performances feel so layered, lived-in, honest. The character arc Lee Israel goes through in the film, being what it is, is communicated practically entirely through the subtitles of a performance rather than dialogue, transformative acts, etc.
The very shallow depth of field seems to emphasise just how lonely and isolated the characters are; I particularly liked a shot where Israel is foregrounded and Jack Hock’s actions in the background are discernible just through how the blob defining his shape moves, a real literalisation of her mindset and view of people.
A fascinating film about a fascinating subject. Three and a half scotch and sodas, and some delicious bread.