Friday, 25 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Richard E. Grant received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me?.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a terrific film about curmudgeon and biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) becoming a forger of celebrity letters after having lost her job and writing a flop.

Richard E. Grant makes his triumphant return here with what has perhaps become his most noted role since his breakout turn as the titular Withnail of Withnail and I. Although it is fair to say the character of Withnail shares several similarities to his role of Jack Hock here, both roles certainly play to Grant's strengths as a performer, this is not a simple reprise of that performance, and not just because Grant/the character are thirty years older. Jack is a character of many, yet few trades, as we find during the film, but the name is perhaps most fitting to him as that of the bar fly. This is after all how he is introduced as he springs into some random bar where McCarthy's Israel is also drinking, rather early in the day. Grant's entrance is pronounced, as he enters with a spontaneous, rather endearing energy even in the way he summons a beer for himself. Where Grant had a certain flamboyance as Withnail, that was an act in the character, where in Jack, this is very much who Jack is, or at least must be. Although more on that later as first we must discover Jack on the surface, who we should, no must, be described quite simply as an absolute delight. 

Of course he is an interesting sort to be sure as he and Lee Israel initially bond upon seemingly their mutual disregard of the societal mucketymucks. Although this perhaps far more towards Lee who recalls, with great affection, when Jack urinated on expensive fur coats at a party, which she holds in high regard as an accomplishment. Grant on the other hand portrays this devoted fascination towards Lee, perhaps to some sense as a writer on the fringes of high society, but there is perhaps more to that. Let's hold off on that though, as it is easy enough just to have some fun with Grant in the role here. His mannerisms he so naturally realizes as the bit of the show that is. Grant very much plays Jack as a man seeking more than a bit of attention, in his dramatic strides, great grin, and frequently grand gestures. It is not a hollow act though as Grant brings such a zest into every single movement. Grant plays it as much of a man seeking his own pleasure through these actions, just as he is trying to be noticed at the same time. Grant's performance captures this infectious energy that even as we discover more of Jack's less savory qualities, as his living seems to consistent of drug dealing and small time larceny, it is hard not to like Jack due to Grant's approach.

The purpose of his character though is to be the one companion of Lee which only seems possible given Jack's equally dubious position on the societal food chain, which in turn is one of the great joys of the film that being the chemistry between Grant and McCarthy. This being funneled through initially their mutual love of creating a bit of misanthropic havoc, and the certain pseudo disdain they have for each other that is also this connection for them as this understanding of each other. Although there are many of truths held, Grant and McCarthy emphasize this honesty of interaction between the two that makes the friendship work so well. What also helps is pitch perfect comedic timing between the two. This film is not an intended to be a broad comedy, yet there is such natural comedy is realized through the two's interactions. They just derive such authentic humor from their interplay with one another that is absolutely splendid at every turn. Whether it be Grant's oh so sincere swift affirmation of "mmmhmm", when Lee questions if he's really gay for not knowing who Fanny Brice is, or just in Grant's way of conveying his more than a little insincere support of Lee having left a partner, due to her former partner wanting her to care about anyone other than just herself. Grant's delivery of "the never" at the notion is just ever so perfect, just as every little joking moment between the two is as performed by he and McCarthy.

Of course what makes this performance so special, though really just being a delight would already be more than enough, is that the friendship between the two does mean more than a few laughs. This is brilliantly realized in just the very first scene, partially beyond his enthusiasm to speak with someone, but also when they initially part ways with Jack remarking his house is a few blocks down or so. The hesitation in his voice tells this to be a lie, as does the certain somberness Grant brings to his eyes as he turns to the city alone. Grant portrays carefully no real callousness in the relationship, even with the misanthropy involved in some of their actions, showing a thrill in the interaction, a thrill just of a connection to any one. There is one moment in particular I love as he visits Lee's apartment, along with her super, and a exterminator. All three initially flee due to the smell, which Jack too admits to as well that draws him away. Jack returns though and the way Grant delivers that he doesn't mind and will help her clean up, is with an understated yet wholly genuine tenderness of a real friend. Grant is great the way he makes every moment the two share, as something special in his eyes, even if he plays as Jack purposefully underplaying a bit. When he takes her to a drag show, Grant offers this pride and warmth, of a man just happy to share a moment with a mutual spirit. As Grant realizes so well in his performance that Jack is a very lonely man in heart, and craves interaction more so than attention. Although the flamboyant personality isn't fake, Grant creates as an essential part of Jack way of being away from his loneliness. A loneliness that probably is only assuaged by Lee as a friend.

Now we don't see his life really outside of his time with Lee, but there is a pivotal moment where he comes to Lee for aid after being beaten by likely a male prostitute he couldn't pay. Again Grant depicts such real sadness in his eyes, suggesting just life of quiet desperation. Unfortunately the vices of both eventually lead to their parting, especially after Jack accidentally kills Lee's cat, and they both get caught in the forgeries. They share one more scene together some time later, now that Jack has developed AIDS, and she is asking to use him in her autobiography. Grant and McCarthy again excel by showing the two picking essentially where they left off, though now appropriately a bit more guarded as they trade their insults. Grant brings the right coldness towards her that Grant effectively shows coming from her dismissive treatment of him, and as well a definite bitterness towards his fatal affliction. The two though again casually lifts it as they keep speaking, creating the sense of their friendship once again ever so briefly through a little warm insult once again. Jack agrees though does so with the request that she make him "29 with perfect skin" and to not make him "sound stupid". Although the request is comical, Grant's portrayal of the moment is absolutely heartbreaking, though also a little heartwarming in a way, as he wholly finds the sense of Jack sensing his impending death, and that is time is nearly gone though still holding onto something. This is an outstanding performance by Richard E. Grant as he takes a role, that could've been just a grotesque caricature in the wrong hands, and brings such a vivid life to him. To be sure, he's entertaining with his delicious approach to Jack, but also finds such honesty and true poignancy in his portrait of this man on the fringes of society.


Emi Grant said...

I hate the fact that I still haven't watched this film.

Louis: What are your thoughts on Grant's chances to win?

Matt Mustin said...

Great, great performance and one that I find myself appreciating a lot more the more I think about it.

Mitchell Murray said...


Loved him here. Such an easy win for this line up, and I'm holding onto a faint glimmer of hope that the academy sees that too.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Rating and thoughts on his performance in The Player? If you haven't covered it.

Bryan L. said...

I think it helps that Grants' been active and charming whilst doing interviews and press junkets for the film.

Charles H said...

Tremendous work. He'd be my #5 or so for supporting and i'm really glad he has another five.

Matt Mustin said...

Bryan: He's just a charming guy in general, if you watch any of the panel shows he's been a guest on in Britain, he's just got such an infectious likability to him.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: Watching his reactions to being cast in Star Wars: Episode 9 and receiving his first nomination has been a pleasure to see.

Calvin Law said...

Not only a brilliant performance but also such a generous one. Even though it could’ve been a showboating role that tries to steal the limelight he’s always generous and plays off McCarthy so well. One of my favourite moments of his is his completely oblivious reaction to McCarthy when she’s talking about Dorothy Parker and McCarthy’s equally hilarious questioning of his sexuality.

Louis: what are your thoughts on Grant as an actor? It’s interesting that you’ve seen Withnail and this in succession since previously I assume all you’ve seen him in are in relatively small roles in Dracula, The Player, Gosford Park etc.

Calvin Law said...

Also I’m so glad you noted what a poignant performance it is. I really hope he wins (well we know he’s definitely winning this lineup, which is an honour in itself, but Oscar would be nice too).

Calvin Law said...

Louis: it’d be a very different film altogether but what do you think of a 2010s version of Once Upon a Time in the West directed by the Coens, starring Tim Blake Nelson as Harmonica, Tom Waits as Cheyenne, Berenice Bejo as Jill, and Mark Hamill as Frank?

RatedRStar said...

Yesterday when I was at work, we had Virgin Radio on, Richard E.Grant was being interviewed by Chris Evans (Ginger one).

Chris asked "Do you get more job offers after you have been nominated for an Academy Award" Richard replies "yes lots, surgery, facemasks and facelift offers" lol xD brilliant.

RatedRStar said...

I thought Richard E.Grant was quite good in The Little Vampire actually lol.

Houndtang said...

Quite a resurgence for him - after years of TV guest spots and virtual bit parts in films. I think Logan was the first relatively high profile part he'd had in ages and even that wasn't a particularly substantial role.

Luke Higham said...

He was great in The Scarlet Pimpernel. A perfect fit for a foppish aristocrat.

Calvin Law said...

*Fanny Brice

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Could I have your thoughts on Aimee Mullins's (Terry Ives) performance in Stranger Things?

Mike Coleman said...

Louis: Your thoughts and ratings on Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in "The Wife". Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Louis: so will you end up putting Buster Scruggs in Adapted or Original screenplay category?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on Kendrick, Lively and Golding in A Simple Favor.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

I actually kind of liked A Simple Favor. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s admirable and rather entertaining. Lively is excellent and the film should have been Oscar nominated for Best Costume Design.

On a side note, I’ve finally seen The Favourite and I loved it. Weisz might actually be my Best Actress winner.

Calvin Law said...

Weisz was also my favourite out of The Favourite.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your top 20 most beautiful actresses of all time in your opinion.

Psifonian said...

"Make me twenty-nine." He should win the Oscar handily just for that.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I’m preemptively upset he’s probably going to lose.

Charles H said...

Weisz and Stone would be close for my favourite in The Favourite. It's certainly disheartening to see many people saying for Close and Adams to win the actress categories because they're "overdue".

For supporting actor Grant has a chance of winning, All i could hope is Ali's win for Moonlight holds him back.

Louis Morgan said...


He has a chance, he really needs to get on stage somewhere, however at this point I'm not sure the BAFTA is even guaranteed, as the sort of "homefield" advantage has mattered less of late, for example Sally Hawkins couldn't win last year nor Manville. If Elliott instead of Ali wins SAG, Grant probably will take the BAFTA then, and I could foresee him taking the win. His two biggest disadvantages is that he plays a duplicitous sort (which I hate that needs to be considered a disadvantage), and that he's not in a best picture nominee. His biggest advantage is that the current front runner is a previous winner. Usually to get two wins one needs to steamroll, which isn't the case for Ali, or there has to be some other factors to keep the rest of the field away. Ali is different than Christoph Waltz for example, as he was in a field of all previous winners, or Robards who was against previous winners, a dancer, and a guy going full frontal when that was controversial. Ali's also not of say the stature of Michael Caine at this point. I can see them just defaulting though, unless a precursor doesn't give the academy an alternate option.


A Simple Favor is a film I kind of wanted to love, yet sadly Paul Feig is no Hitchcock, he's not even trashy Hitchcock (Brian De Palma), which the material story wise is closer to particularly Kendrick's character's past. His direction underwhelms in his over lighting once again, his failure to create the Hithcockian tension, and just his inability to handle the tone. He sadly doesn't appear that he knows the tone he's going for exactly. Light Hitchcock even exists by Hitchcock, Family Plot, which has a better sense of tone than this film. It sadly whips out the broad jokes at the wrong moments, and has no idea how to handle the darker elements. It sometimes has fun with the knowing qualities, but overplays the hand, I especially hated when they name dropped Les Diaboliques as it just felt overly cute. The film's frustrating as I like the idea of this approach, but it just doesn't quite pull it off. But hey it's way better than Nocturnal Animals.

Kendrick - 2.5(She really has no idea what to do when it gets really Brian DePalmay, and just seems uncomfortable in those moments. I like the idea of her sort of cheery demeanor being the lead of a thriller, but again this works only at times. The film too doesn't know exactly what to do with her, and in turn Kendrick is left just mainly on that cheery note even with darker material. That doesn't work as a contradiction either sadly. There are times where he work feels like parody, which sadly is in some of the more serious moments theoretically that remove the tension. Again I really think a great deal of this falls to Feig's unsure hand.)

Lively - 2.5(Speaking of tonal problems let's look at Lively's turn, which is right at home in a DePalma thriller for a lot of it. She's having a blast, and is camping it up right along with those costumes. Sadly then the film wants a serious part of her character that falls flat on its face, and almost ruins Lively's turn. The reason being she simply seems like a different character in these scenes, not a different facade, but literally different character.)

Golding - 2.5(He's charming dude once again, and I have to say his some what constantly befuddled performance does work, as just being out of his element all times.)

Louis Morgan said...


Based on sort of his current "bookend" performances he's perhaps been slightly misused as a character actor. As he does certainly deliver on his very specific style no matter what the role may be, however this and Withnail, show he has a far greater emotional range than the majority of the roles he has been given throughout his career. Too often it seems they seem to give him only functional roles, like what a waste of him in Game of Thrones for example, as he just needs a little something to be able to make an impression as he did in say The Player, but give him more and he can deliver on that as shown as Jack and Withnail. Hopefully he'll get some nice Oscar boon roles to go along with this one. Although I'm sure he's already wearing that First Order uniform, hopefully he actually has something to do.

That would be VERY different, but gotta say I'd be intrigued.


Grant - 3.5(His pitch is perhaps my favorite scene in that film as he brings such an egotistical passion of the great AR-TIST explaining his vision. This being so hilariously subverted by him through his dramatic fist pump when watching the studio mandated version of his ending he refused to compromise.)


It's a memorable performance actually, even if technically limited, she most certainly makes an impact within that limitation in creating such a vivid distant yet emotional state that creates her exact mental decay.



That's a good question, and there really isn't a precedent to go on, since Anthology films are usually terrible or just not very good. This isn't a case of a loose adaptation either because 2 of the stories are pretty close adaptations, while the other 4 are entirely original. Almost feel as though I should put in with both, but only consider the adapted portions for the adapted competition, while only consider the Original portions for the Original competition.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: I'm kind of expecting a "sympathy" vote for Mahershala Ali. That's a weird thing to say, but I do see people saying stuff like "I kinda feel sorry for him being surrounded by all this controversy, he should win just to come out on top of things". That kinda thing. Which is *ridiculous*.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Your cast and decade of release for a Hitchcock version of A Simple Favor?

Bryan L. said...

Matt: That's the exact reason why I think Ali might get his second Oscar after all. Let's hope Grant starts generating some momentum.

Louis: And speaking of Hitchcock, your thoughts on the 2012 biopic as a missed opportunity?

Louis Morgan said...


Greta Garbo
Claudia Cardinale
Audrey Hepburn
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Vivien Leigh
Gina Lollobrigida
Ava Gardner
Rita Hayworth
Grace Kelly
Diane Lane
Michelle Pfeiffer
Nastassja Kinski
Emily Blunt
Jean Simmons
Paulette Goddard
Madeleine Stowe
Ingrid Bergman
Janet Leigh
Diane Kruger
Ziyi Zhang


A Simple Favor 1950's:

Stephanie: Shirley Temple
Emily: Janet Leigh
Sean: Tony Curtis

Hitchcock sadly features one of the weakest turns by Hopkins, but the real problem with it is it offers no insight into the man. It all seems accidental all of it, and they just limit into this brief bout of jealousy that holds him back before getting together by embracing his wife again. It doesn't explore anything interesting about the production or anything else around it. I will say Psycho's probably not the best set to explore anyways, but what they did with it was just bland.