As it lands on Sky Cinema, here’s our review of JT LeRoy, starring Kristen Stewart.
For six years, young artist Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart) played the role of her sister-in-law’s literary persona, JT LeRoy. Laura Albert (Laura Dern) was a bestselling author under the catchy pen name, and as her work gained further praise and recognition, she felt Savannah fit the role perfectly to keep her identity hidden. It’s a surreal and enticing true story, and in Justin Kelly’s film adaptation it begins aptly with the famed Oscar Wilde quote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”.
Dern’s energy as the author is immediately infectious, a character who knows how to make each person she meets feel important. This is a trait that inevitably begins leaving collateral damage, as relationships and promises become a tangled web in the life of LeRoy. The persona is bohemian and androgynous, he’s anything his audience want him to be, but simultaneously exactly the opposite. Stewart plays this well; as Savannah, a character who identifies as gender non-conforming, they’re hard to define, which is what makes them the perfect performer for Albert’s master plan.
Viewers unfamiliar with the story will be forgiven for not connecting to Albert’s prose. Kelly flies through any real introduction to the work of LeRoy and how powerful it was to readers; instead, we are expected to just believe she is as good as she says she is. However, the film attempts to provide an intimate look at what the journey meant specifically for Knoop, a perspective that has been sidelined in other interpretations of varying mediums. To follow the process of self discovery for a young non-binary character with such bizarre situations surrounding them opens up real opportunities for powerful storytelling. The film just lacks the passion required to scratch the surface. JT LeRoy is simply too much of a slow-burn, often struggling to meet the energy of Dern’s electric interpretation of Albert.
Kelly’s intentions are clear as the film slowly picks apart and examines the downfall of this literary hoax, wherein a double life leads to rocky relationships and a constant pressure to perform for both protagonists. When real people begin to fall in love with someone who doesn’t exist, and Albert begins to feel like she has lost creative control of her alter-ego, you might expect the film to reach a truly dramatic climax. However, JT LeRoy just feels flat – what begins as an interesting tale coasts along and leaves the audience begging for drama. A story as wild as this deserves a film to match, as of course, as it states at the very start, the truth is never simple.
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