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Feb 23 2019

'Can You Ever Forgive' everyone ignoring Marielle Heller?

by Nathaniel R

Marielle Heller is,we suspect,a real deal cinematic treasure.Her debut film,the sexually charged,inventively imaginedDiary of a Teenage Girl(2015) showed a ton of promise.Her second featureCan You Ever Forgive Me?(2018),while more modest at first glance,was yet more complex and successful.

We think she ought to have been one of the Best Director nominees with Oscar this year,which is why she's in our Film Bitch Awards Best Director lineup...

(That lineup was just posted so check it out here...)

But while we're on the topic of Heller,just as I was completing this chart,I realized that friend of TFEKyle Stevenshad recently had an essay published about her fine work.It's very thought-provoking andyou should absolutely read it.

I love this part of the essay which comes directly after a section about the scene in whichJane Curtin's agent charactercriticizes Lee Israel for not being more like bestselling novelist Tom Clancy:

Moreover,Le's Agent fails to understand the nature of the writerly voice Lee already has.A style that does not announce itself as style - often dubbed "transparent"in critical parlance - is still a style,and queer in the sense that it istherefor people who know to look for it.(Nothing is straighter than believing what one thinks,sees,or feels about the world is simply the case.) This is,I think a mistake that film critics are in danger of repeating.Every review,without exception,so far as I can tell,regards Can You Ever Forgive Me?as McCarthy's movie.Rolling Stone's Peter Travers puts it succinctly: 'the film belongs to McCarthy'.

McCarthy is great,but calling it her movie is simply lazy.Stars are visible,opaque.When we see an A-list star's face it is hard to forget that we are watching that star.(It is partly for this reason that we tend to talk about screen characters by their actors' names.) But to call the film McCarthy's suggests it is not Heller's,and so,to reinforce a history of sexist and anti-queer criticism that does not understand how to appreciate films that do not perform the macho stylistic flexes for which critics have been trained to look.For example,Heller could have slowly panned the empty,tatty bar stools at Lee's favorite watering hole,the still-standing gay bar Julius's,to enjoin the audiences to think about the ravages of AIDS.Instead,her shots position Lee amidst the barren seats - we always see them,as well as signs about the crisis - but it is up to us to note then.The stools are no less empty and no less visible.This is not about 'hidden' meaning or subtext.The baroque camera movements and editing patterns of directors from Hitchcock to Kubrick to Cuarón function as another form of opacity,already reminding the audience of the hand of their maker.In terms ofCan You Ever Forgive Me?,they are Clancy-esque.If Heller did present such overt choices,she would betray the far more complex values about style that the story she tells demonstrates have merit.

Marielle Heller's reaction to her Oscar passing her by
Oscar Chart Best Director
Film Bitch Award Best Director Nominations
Can You Ever Forgive Me?Review
Richard E Grant Interview

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Reader Comments (18)

I think,while I always appreciate criticizing Travers,that he's simply acknowledging an amazing performance (especially amazing once you realize by the end that you forgot who the actor is).

Heller's film is subtle more than anything else.One could argue it a writer's film.I think that that,more than anything else,is why she's been overlooked.

She's not in my top 7 I dont think,but it's one of the year's best.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

I really like the movie,but is mostly an achievement in writing and acting.Besides her,your choices for best director are all amazing including runner ups and finalists.My personal five would be:

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterLSS

Her directorial approach is anonymous.Barry Jenkins could have easily taken Adam McKay's place in the final lineup.I sincerely suspect Beale Street was too Black for non-Black audiences.There was no hook for them like witnessing Black dysfunction in your American backyards with the twist of acceptable muted queerness to humanize a community you don't often think about how you casually undermine and dismiss.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

/3rtful;I don't think the film moved many people.Hard to really push a film when the central relationship has no life.

I never hear anyone who says they love the film explain how Layne's performance doesn't bring it down.It's indisputably poor (being polite) and she's in all of it.And her relationship with Alonzo felt like he was making her decisions for her.

It was almost awful.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

So glad you liked the essay!

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterKyle


Layne's greenness as an actress shows with the ensemble Jenkins assembled to anchor the movie around her.I cringed the first time I heard her voice over early in the movie.I think overall she's the right type for the character.The same way Sean Young made sense for her role in Blade Runner despite lacking depth as an actor.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

And ignoring the fantastic Dolly Wells too.Heller is my Best Director winner of 2018.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

A director is responsible for a film's achievement in acting (not to mention casting),and Heller supposedly revised the script without credit as well (she added Grant's final scene to the film,which contributed a great deal of emotional heft to the film).

I am really glad to see her make your line-up.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

@/3rtful;I see her as a vessel,yes,but I think Jenkins puts too much on her,and the relationship between the two of them looks unnatural,like he's bringing her to the dark side.I also had problems with what I thought was an overstretched sex scene,overly sensitive and almost a foreshadowing (or reflection,given the film is told in flashbacks) of the tragedy to unfold.

For me too much of the film placates to Alonzo.What happens is obvious and a justification for the approach,but I think the film wastes a great novel.The screenplay in particular.

Also,I think even the cinematography reflects the film's focus: the exteriors,the environment,and not the characters.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

I never take anything Peter Travers says seriously except for our shared disdain towards Michael Bay.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

For what it's worth I think Beale Street will get a second viewing and I'll give it another Roma.Hell,A Star Is Born.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

If we're talking about Beale Street (even tho it's entirely unrelated to this post),I felt like I was watching it through glass.I just wasn't emotionally affected for even a second of the film,and it has nothing to do with me being white because Moonlight fucked me UP and was my favorite film that year.Kiki Layne was extremely unlikeable,and I haven't been able to decipher if that was her character or her acting,so I won't necessarily diss her skills (yet).Stephan James was by far MVP of the film,even Regina King didn't get enough to do,and I was left baffled by how she won every single critics award out there.I think the film *looked* beautiful,but it felt arthouse for the sake of being arthouse--the film didn't work on the whole for me.Is it a bad movie?Absolutely not,but would I argue for its inclusion in other categories?Definitely not.Barry Jenkins added another solid outing to his filmography,but it's no Moonlight.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

(With all that said,I still have to see 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'--the release of that movie was blasphemous.But I have high expectations based on everything I've heard.)

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Sorry for derailing the thread I love this movie.But it's direction wasn't necessarily the standout element to me.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I particularly loved the scene with Anna Deavere Smith.I'm very much in love with this movie.

February 23,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I couldn't agree more.To whoever said Heller's direction was anonymous,I couldn't disagree more.
It was pitch perfect and a beautiful gem of a movie.

I genuinely would have nominated 3 women for the Director prize this year: Granik,Heller and Chloe Zhao.Special mention to Coralie Fargeat for her spectacular work on Revenge.

February 24,2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

"With all that said,I still have to see 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'--the release of that movie was blasphemous."

I blame Fox Searchlight.They put all of their eggs in The Favourite's basket.I think if they hadn't done that and paid more attention to CYEFM?,they could have gotten a BP nomination for the film,an Oscar for Grant,and just possibly,an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for the film.

We'll see how The Favourite does tonight.

February 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

There were some really well directed films in 2018.Marielle Heller still winds up outside of my own lineup,but I also include Coralie Fargeat for Revenge,a film that wasn't even submitted for the Oscars and could be argued as a 2017 release.亚博主页Without Fargeat,Heller is my sixth slot with Pawel Pawlikowski winning for Cold War.Alfonso Cuaron,Spike Lee,Jason Reitman,and Yorgos Lanthimos finish out my category.

I love Can You Ever Forgive Me?and still cannot understand why Heller and even Melissa McCarthy were ignored throughout awards season.McCarthy got the Oscar nod,but think of all the misses she had compared to Richard E.Grant easily getting in almost every time.That's not to take anything away from Grant's performance;he's great,too.The response was just so weird to me and how he was the clear "yes,that's what we award"focus all the time.This is a film that was very much in the discussion compared to other misses and Heller barely had any traction.I just don't get it.

February 24,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

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