How far should a person go to protect a career, a reputation, or a life?

How many lies will someone willingly tell? How many fabrications can be successfully sustained? And at what point will conscience take over to clear up the deception?

Can You Forgive Me? tells the story of how one lady uses her command of secrets and lies to stay financially and emotionally afloat in Manhattan. Once a promising author of biographies, she has since fallen on hard times with little publishing interest in her latest idea to write a book about comedienne Fanny Brice. As the film begins, no one cares about her work, her cat, or her needs. She can’t hold on to an everyday job. She tells stories to delay paying the rent. And she doesn’t have anywhere to turn.

Until she starts to forge. And the money starts to roll in.

This talented writer finds a way to use her ability to mimic how the famous express themselves — a skill honed when writing biographies — to create and sell forged documents from dead celebrities. And she makes it look easy. All of a sudden, the creative abilities that, according to others, have no market value, are in demand simply because she changes the packaging. As the writer begins to have fun imagining stories that never happened, she refuses to feel guilt. The world owes her.

This movie fascinates. Without taking sides, director Marielle Heller poses the question, if someone needs to lie to survive, is the lie justified? The moviemaker uses her camera to paint a rich tale of just how far someone may go to protect the status quo. Lee Israel, beautifully portrayed by Melissa McCarthy, rarely questions how much money she can make channeling her skills to mimic writing style into a lucrative underground career. As she continues to deceive, she dares to question, are people so consumed with celebrity they will buy it in any form no matter the truth?

Based on an actual story, the film is less a story of Lee’s greed than an examination of a writer’s need to have something to write about. Rather than detail how Lee creates her artificial correspondence, Heller digs into the reasons this woman finds it necessary to live so far outside her truth. Because Lee should not earn what she earns, she should not live as she lives. And, because her only real social contact is a man who also hides from reality, the writer creates a fictional narrative for her own life as fake as the letters that bring her money.

While making us think, the movie entertains, with McCarthy in full command of her comedic and dramatic skills. She turns what could have been a one-dimensional portrayal into a rich look at how financial fear can damage intent. And she is well supported by Richard E. Grant as Jack, a somewhat helpless soul who finds a new purpose for his days by helping Lee get through hers.

How far will people go to protect themselves? Can You Forgive Me? may not fully answer the inquiry, but it does make us think about what questions we should ask.

Film Nutritional Value: Can You Forgive Me

  • Content: High. Marielle Heller’s examination of a writer who chooses to deceive to survive raises interesting questions about the choices people make.

  • Entertainment: High. Thanks to strong performances, the characters come to life. And they make us think about how far we might go to protect ourselves.

  • Message: High. Thanks to the candor of the approach, and the authenticity of the performances, a message of tolerance and understanding comes through.

  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk about issues of lies and deception with older teenagers can be meaningful.

  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older teenagers, talk about what it would take for someone to make these choices or offer support.

Can You Forgive Me is rated R for sexual references, languages and brief drug use. The film runs 1 hour, 46 minutes, and is showing at area theaters. 4 Popcorn Buckets. 

The Danish Girl: Redmayne searches for a sense of self

Movies love to explore what may live below a surface.

Can You Forgive Me looks at the lies people tell to survive. The Danish Girl, from 2015, considers what truths people pursue to thrive.

In this film, without saying a word, the man’s eyes suggest layers of thought that fill his mind, as if so much goes on in his head he can’t keep it all organized. As he looks around a room he notices too much, wants to connect with so many, imagines all the people he could be. And though he roots himself in a relationship of trust and freedom, he soon realizes that his sense of self may inspire him to veer far off the conventional path.

As a man who chooses to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne follows up his award-winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking with an equally detailed examination of conflicting desires. This meticulous actor uses every technique in his reach to reveal the complexity of gender assignment as he creates an individual deeply in touch with his feelings yet fearful of where they may lead. The performance is a triumph for an actor who, with each performance, demonstrates a chameleon’s gift to fit into many situations. Redmayne the actor makes us believe in Einer Wegener the person who just wants to feel at home.

No matter the precision of Redmayne’s portrayal, The Danish Girl is more than a one-person show. Yes, Einer’s journey frames the narrative. But the other person in this drama — Einer’s wife Gerda brilliantly created by Oscar nominee Alicia Vikander — gives the movie its energy. While Redmayne’s progression can be predicted with his mastery of suggestive gestures, Vikander surprises in every sequence, making Gerda a fascinating mix of love, anger, resentment and longing. Her reactions to his crisis lift the movie from its lush surroundings to create a fascinating look at how a relationship can withstand challenge. With each gesture and glance, the actress lets us see inside a woman who wants to believe in the freedom she grants even as her husband’s choices force her to reinvent herself.

For director Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for The King’s Speech, the film offers another opportunity for the lush moviemaking he favors. Each situation is perfectly staged, each sequence carefully arranged, each setting richly imagined. With Alexandre Desplat’s dramatic music in the background, and Paco Delgado’s glorious costumes outfitting the characters, Hooper creates a beautiful world where anyone deserves to live happily ever after.

But the director’s vision may, ultimately, undermine the challenge of the content. This environment is so appealing that its look may suggest that Einer’s path is conventional simply because it looks and sounds so good. A darker, grittier view of this situation, and the central relationship it changes, may have been a less attractive but more authentic. Because Hooper chooses to dress the film in lavish style, the visuals threaten to dilute the power of a woman’s unselfish choice to her let the man in her life follow his destiny. If only Hooper had trusted the meaning of the words more and relied less on his talents to make a movie look good.

Despite its look, The Danish Girl makes a strong contribution to the conversation about gender issues. At a time when, thankfully, the world becomes more transparent, the movie reminds us how far the discussion must yet travel. As much as people change over time, the challenge of some issues remains. The Danish Girl helps us understand the journey even if it looks too good for its own good.

The Danish Girl, from 2015, is rated R for some sexuality and nudity. The film runs 119 minutes.