JT LeRoy

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Justin Kelly

Starring

Diane Kruger Jim Sturgess Kristen Stewart Laura Dern

Anticipation.

Great cast, great story.

Enjoyment.

No one seems to be really trying here…

In Retrospect.

The truth is more interesting than the fiction.

Justin Kelly takes on the scandal that rocked the literary world in this starry but uninspired biopic.

Throughout the ’90s, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, or JT LeRoy as often abbreviated, made a steady career writing for the likes of Vogue, i-D, Interview, and various other hip publications in New York, Los Angeles and London.

Publishing two novels purportedly about their own childhood experiences with abuse and forced prostitution, LeRoy quickly became a celebrated literary personality, although curiously reclusive and never seen in public until 2001, when a mysterious person in a wig and sunglasses began to appear at events claiming to be LeRoy.

Meanwhile, Asia Argento adapted LeRoy’s autobiographical novel in a film, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, starring Argento, Peter Fonda, Jeremy Renner and, er, Marilyn Manson. A couple of years later, an article in New York magazine unmasked LeRoy as fiction – the creation of author Laura Albert. The person masquerading as LeRoy for public appearances was Savannah Knoop, Albert’s sister-in-law.

It’s a fascinating story – in theory, prime real estate for a big-name film retelling, so Justin Kelly’s JT LeRoy (with bonafide A-listers Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart playing Laura Albert and Savannah Knoop respectively) shouldn’t have to work too hard to achieve the intended outcome. Unfortunately, Kelly’s rather spotty track record for turning headline-grabbing LGBTQ stories into sub-par films (see also: King Cobra, I Am Michael) may not have made him the best man for the job, and his fourth feature is a rather uninspired affair.

Stewart’s turn as Knoop feels like a step back from the more interesting roles she’s taken lately; sporting a baseball cap and large sunglasses, she is presented entirely as a strange victim of circumstance, almost incapable of autonomy, as she shuffles between Dern and Diane Kruger’s Eva (an obvious stand-in for Asia Argento). It’s a half-hearted performance lacking any sort of depth, which is particularly curious given the real-life Savannah Knoop’s involvement in the film.

Perhaps her hands-on approach is partly to blame; the script feels oddly surface-level, disinterested in grappling with the real motives (psychological or otherwise) behind the scam. Instead, it’s a campy curiosity, half-heartedly performed by a normally compelling cast.

Published 15 Aug 2019

Tags: JT LeRoy Kristen Stewart Laura Dern

Anticipation.

Great cast, great story.

Enjoyment.

No one seems to be really trying here…

In Retrospect.

The truth is more interesting than the fiction.

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