By: Jessica Goddard
In a classic case of truth being stranger than fiction, JT LeRoy is especially interesting if you keep in mind its events notoriously did happen. All the required overacting works, since the story is so bizarre and based on a sequence of such strange choices.
In 2001, Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart) arrives in San Francisco to stay with her brother Geoffrey (Jim Sturgess) and his girlfriend Laura Albert (Laura Dern). It turns out Laura’s recently published an (implicitly autobiographical) novel under the pseudonym JT LeRoy, or “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy”, and the book is doing quite well. Problem is, the media, literary community, and fans want to see JT in the flesh; to talk to him, meet him, to know more about the mysterious author with the fascinating past. Laura has been placating them with phone interviews conducted using a fake voice, but everyone is still asking for more. As coincidence would have it, the generally androgynous Savannah looks a lot like the random stranger Laura used for the author photo when the book was published, so she begs Savannah to pose as JT for just one long-overdue photoshoot. Reluctantly, Savannah agrees, and the rest is history – the photoshoot turns into appearances, meetings, and parties, and before long, a movie deal is on the way and Savannah is flying to Paris as JT to do press.
Of course it’s only a matter of time before the charade is exposed, and in the meantime Savannah and Laura’s relationship deteriorates as both fight for control of the fictional JT.
JT LeRoy (co-written by the actual Savannah Knoop, based on her memoir) is written from Savannah’s perspective, taking on a more stylistically documentarian approach and relying on Kristen Stewart’s acting ability to show, rather than tell (I would argue Stewart isn’t passably androgynous enough to make her casting work from a purely physical point of view, but her performance is incredibly intuitive and effective otherwise).
This is a good movie about a fascinating cultural episode, but most of the film takes on an oddly serious and solemn tone; which is a bit of a shame since the premise has so much potential to acknowledge its inherent wackiness.
This movie is also, whether deliberately or not, a charming period piece in that it serves as a reminder of that time just before the ubiquity of social media and the 24/7 presence of personal cameras. It does make one wonder how long somebody could get away with a stunt like Albert and Knoop’s in 2019. All in all, JT LeRoy is naturally engaging and poses some good, thought-provoking questions. And the fact that the whole peculiar thing is based on real events makes it all the more enjoyable.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod