Cinema Review: JT LeRoy

Posted 5 months ago in Cinema Reviews

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Director: Justin Kelly

Talent: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger

Released: 16 August

In 2005 both the New York Times and Vanity Fair published revelatory articles that the author JT LeRoy of the biographical memoirs Sarah and The Heart is a Deceitful Thing wasn’t who he said he was. In fact, he was a composite of two women; the actual author being Laura Albert and her public persona avatar acted out by Savannah Knoop. At the time, it was one of the most bizarre literary scams, if not the most convoluted. Following the brilliant 2016 documentary on LeRoy, this is director Justin Kelly’s Hollywood retelling.

Now, pay attention. Dern plays Albert and Albert plays the mysterious author Leroy on the phone. Albert also plays LeRoy’s British manager Speedie when she’s out in the real world accompanying the physical LeRoy. Unable or unwilling to deal with her past traumas so openly in the real world, the physical presence of Leroy was played by Knoop for the press, who is played by Stewart in the movie. Still following me?

A story as ludicrous as this needed a more abstract or surreal approach, along the lines of I, Tonya or Josephine Decker’s films. Here the story is played as straightforward as it can be, and the angle doesn’t suit. Instead, the story comes across somewhat slapstick at times. It goes without saying that Dern and Stewart are both capable actresses, with CVs anyone would be jealous of, but Dern alternates between various levels of irritating throughout, in particular, whenever the ridiculous character of Speedie is onscreen. Stewart plays it flat, as she has to, but too flat, for too long. When she’s playing LeRoy, she has to be this stunted, ultra-shy writer and she does this simple task effectively. The problem is that the character of LeRoy is immensely uninteresting and beyond annoying. When Stewart plays Knoop, she looks bored by it all, like she couldn’t give a shit and wants it all to end. Her face probably looked a bit like mine, actually. Frozen in a nullified grimace. Bored.

The story of LeRoy is well documented, so while this is a fresh approach to the story, there’s little in the way of revelation (apart from Diane Kruger’s role as Eva Avelin, based on Asia Argento, yet another irritating character. The film’s full of them). People new to the whole saga might enjoy the film immensely, or not, I couldn’t tell you, but honestly, I’d just dig out the 2016 documentary and watch that instead. Dern’s Speedie is just too horrible to bear.

Words: Shane O’Reilly


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