JT LeRoy (2018), directed by Justin Kelly, is a dramatic film, with twists and turns, based on the memoir ‘Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy‘ by Savannah Knoop.  It stars Kristen Stewart (Savannah Knoop aka JT Leroy), Laura Dern (Laura Albert), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Sean), Diane Kruger (Eva), Jim Sturgess (Geoff) and Courtney Love in a cameo appearance as Sasha.

It’s a dramatic re-telling from the perspective of Savannah Knoop of the literary scam/hoax pulled off by Laura Albert, her sister-in-law, and the author of two semi-biographical books, ‘Sarah’ and ‘The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things’,  later debunked as fake.  Savannah Knoop is roped in to masquerade as JT Leroy, the literary persona of Albert’s two books.    JT LeRoy is a former teenage sex worker, and a boy.  Albert dresses Knoop in a blond wig and dark sunglasses whose androgynous look in the film fits the part of JT to a tee.  Albert gets into the action too acting as JT’s handler, Speedie, who speaks in an affected British accent and has an irritating personality to go with it.   The American public lap it up and the pair are so convincing it appears that along the way they ensnare Hollywood and European celebrities in their spider web of tales and lies until a journalist from the Guardian finds them out.    It’s a marvelous case study about deception and the blurred boundaries between imagined and real identity and the meaning of authenticity.

It’s an intriguing film exploring the themes of duplicity and authenticity, two sides of the same coin, and the motif of art imitating life imitating art.   Films about grifters and scammers intrigue me and we have a really doozy here as the exploits of Savannah Knoop and Laura Albert, the ring leader, are romanticized and glamorized for the big screen.  It’s a romp of a film glorifying the anti-hero as protagonist and raises intriguing questions of identity both imagined and real, and the motif of unhealthy narcissism, and the love of ego.

Kelly weaves together many visual elements and editing techniques to create an intriguing film juxtaposing the narrative of the hoax against the simmering tensions, conflicted emotions, and hostilities between the characters.  The filmmaker uses interstitial titles starting with a pertinent quote from Oscar Wilde “the truth is rarely pure and never simple” at the beginning of the film to naming the cities and places (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, Tennessee, Cannes) where the narrative unfolds to structure the film, and ending it with the title ‘one year later’.  The film is made up of a stellar cast where Stewart, Dern and Kruger are allowed to play out complex scenes and show us their chops.

I highly recommend the film for its acting, superb cinematography, and dialogue.   It’s an entertaining film about grifters and a cautionary tale on a grand scale that made me think that we are perhaps, susceptible to scams, so, listen to your gut, y’all!

Pacific Northwest Pictures releases JT LeRoy in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria on Friday, May 3, 2019

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