“I’ll have you know, I am a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker.”
New York Times Bestseller Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) works dead-end writing jobs and drinks her days away. Her agent can’t get her any work. No one wants to interact with Lee due to her abrasive personality. When Lee meets Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) in a local bar, he becomes an accomplice to Lee’s desperate means to pay her bills – she forges correspondence by great writers.
Lee Israel was a real lady so I cannot diagnose her.
That said, Lee does have some characteristics that make her life a little more trying than it might be for the average person. For one thing, she’s a lesbian in the 70s, which requires more covert dating than it does today (depending on where you live, unfortunately. That reminds me, Happy Pride Month!) She’s also a natural loner, due to her writing career. Writing is a great job for people who like to hole up with a cat on their lap and a story in their heart, but it’s not a particularly social endeavor. Trust me. I write this blog (and am glancing nonchalantly at my own cat as I write this).
Even Lee is aware that she drinks a lot (she could give our friend from Irrational Man a run for his booze cabinet). She ploughs through the hard stuff from sun-up to sundown, writing out her latest as she sips. While many people, regardless of whether they are in quarantine, turn to drinking as an escape route, the truth is that drinking keeps us trapped. A chicken-or-egg situation, it is unclear if Lee’s short temper and brusque remarks began before she started drinking, or if it was the other way around. Her manner is off-putting to most people though, and it may be because she is constantly drowning in mean juice.
Lee’s relationship with Jack is also the mark of someone with at least impaired judgment. Knowing Jack as she does, Lee still allows him to room at her place, causing Lee tremendous guilt and heartache when her beloved cat passes away at Jack’s hands. While all of us are blind where our loved ones are concerned, Lee’s allowance of Jack’s stay could also be the work of someone whose judgment has been permanently damaged.
Dollars and Sense
Financial burden leads Lee down the road of the forger. Although one reason she has the burden is a lack of writing jobs, she also gets fired from the ones she does snag due to her alcohol consumption and bad attitude. Here too, it is unclear if financial woes predicated the alcohol abuse or if chronic alcohol abuse led to financial strain.
Unlike con artists of Catch Me if You Can status, Lee suffers from tremendous guilt. This is yet another symptom of the drinker: Guilt sets in after a long night of drink, then more drinks ebb away old guilt to make room for new guilt. It’s an endless guilt tug of war. Her choices alleviate the financial burden for a time, but add to an ever-growing trove of guilt, moodiness, and bad judgment calls.
Lee’s safe haven seems to have been her writing, but even writing cannot save a person from themselves.