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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

JT LeRoy ***

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess

Director: Justin Kelly

Country: USA

In 2005 it was revealed that gritty literary sensation JT LeRoy was a hoax. Posing as an androgynous grungy reclusive boy with a tumultuous past, the famous wunderkind who hid behind dark glasses and a wide brim fedora was actually not JT, or even a boy, or even wrote any of his books. The material was actually written by Laura Albert, a middle-aged hipster writer who created JT as a pseudonym who became an avatar. Posing in telephone interviews as him, she soon roped in the help of her young sister-in-law Savannah to play him in the flesh in press interviews. And so the hoax began.

In this movie adaptation of her own account ‘Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy’, director Justin Kelly (I Am Michael, King Cobra) teamed up with Savannah Knoop to create this dramatisation starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Snow White And The Huntsman, Personal Shopper) and Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, Wild, Big Little Lies) as Albert. And using this source material is where the movie falls at the first hurdle. While the story itself is interesting enough, Laura Albert is by far the more fascinating figure. While Dern delivers a huge performance as the kooky and volatile writer, we never really get under her skin to understand where JT came from. Had she experienced the pain she was writing about, or was this just a scion for the edginess she could never really inhabit? Was she just such a fan of grunge culture that she wanted to not just follow it but be it?

Stewart is, as usual, deadpan throughout most of her time on screen. As a result, Knoop is difficult to read or warm to and it becomes difficult to sympathise as she becomes more complicit in the iconoclasm they have created. While Dern is almost a cartoon character in how big she plays Albert, Jim Sturgess (One Day, The Way Back, Across The Universe) is barely present as her husband. Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds, Troy, The Bridge) delivers the most capable role, which is, ironically, the furthest role from the actual truth. Playing a Hollywood actress and director, she represents Italian actress Asia Argento who invested heavily both professionally and personally in JT and his work. Kruger is resplendent in the role, oozing sexuality and glamour counterpoint to the mundane mediocrity of Knoop and Albert’s world. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see the role fictionalised and not played as Argento, but with all the controversy surrounding her in the press right now, the movie plays it safe. Just like it does about everything else.

With the screenplay co-written by Knoop, the film fails to level any criticism toward either guilty party. It sits firmly on the fence about whether they did anything wrong, nor does it level any real analysis of how manipulative Albert actually was. 2016 documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story went much further in giving an unbiased account and managed to build a lot more tension than this plodding dramatisation.

I’ve said before that one day director Justin Kelly will make a great LGBT movie. Clearly favouring non-fiction from Queer people, he is a competent director who clearly has a knack for sourcing edgy and arresting stories, but having co-written JT LeRoy and all of the above, it is the script that is the common denominator that has made these movies barely better than average. One day he will make that great LGBT movie, but only if he leaves the writing to someone else and again, this is not that film.


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