Melissa McCarthy’s bid for dramatic cred is just nasty enough to be enjoyable, thanks hugely to Richard E. Grant’s gleeful turn as a dimwitted but high-spirited end-of-the-line party boy who befriends our heroine just as she touches bottom. (Financially speaking, anyway; she’s still got a ways to go morally.) McCarthy plays Lee Israel, a failed biographer who insists on writing about Fanny Brice even though nobody cares about Fanny Brice. Well, that’s not quite true. Someone cares enough to pay for a personal (though typewritten) letter from the once-famous comedienne, because it turns out that celebrity knick-knacks are the modern saints’ relics. Some of the glamour may linger, and the faithful are only too willing to believe and buy — especially after Israel juices the missive with a snappy PS. She quickly turns suckering the literati into a cottage industry, marshalling Grant and an army of vintage typewriters to her cause. Oh, how the film would have benefitted from some illustration of how she found all those typewriters, one for each impersonated author. Instead, it spends too much time trying to humanize Israel via her relationships with a sweet bookseller, a former lover, and her cat. (How else will we know that McCarthy is a serious actress?) As it is, it benefits from cinematographer Brandon Trost’s grey-brown depiction of New York City, and director Marielle Heller’s (Diary of a Teenage Girl) matter-of-fact tone. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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