I've lived in San Francisco for most of my life, and I learned of J.T. Leroy in 2001. He was a celebrated, hyped young writer who seemingly had experienced a life of physical and sexual abuse, had spent time in an adolescent psychiatric unit in the Bay Area, and was a recluse who rarely left his apartment. As a psychiatric nurse who worked in the city's mental health wards, I found his character to be intriguing and a spokesperson for many of the patients I spent time with. But when I finally heard the mysterious J.T. LeRoy speak, something wasn't right; he didn't sound real. He also sounded exactly like an older female putting on a bad imitation of a young boy, with one of the worst attempts at a Southern accent I'd ever heard. Later, when I finally saw a poorly lit black-and-white photo of the character in a cheap blonde wig it was obvious at that point that it clearly was a woman. Not only was the impersonator not even that androgynous looking, but the fact that she kept her head bowed, avoided photos and rarely spoke made it even more obvious. Before long I was reading about huge book advances, Mr. LeRoy taking Europe by storm, movie deals, and even an affair between himself and the actress Asia Argento (with an actual photo spread of the couple in a well-known magazine. Both individuals were only seen in long shots). It was bizarre and a little disturbing... was this some sort of mass hypnosis or performance art the world was participating in and I just wasn't in on it? "J.T. Leroy" recounts how Savannah (Kristen Stewart) comes to the city to live with her brother and is manipulated by his girlfriend, Laura (Laura Dern), to impersonate a male character she has ghostwritten a novel by in order to gain attention, become famous, and get rich. Both Dern and Stewart are excellent in their roles. Dern portrays Laura as an impulsive, determined sociopath who orchestrates the whole sleazy affair and in the process manipulates everyone around her. She promotes the personality of LeRoy by pretending to be his manager with an exaggerated British accent and wild red wigs. Kristen Stewart plays Savannah as a quiet, passive young woman who can't say no. She goes along with the charade, not quite understanding it at first, then gradually catches on and becomes seduced by the money, the travel, and an actress by the name of Eva (Diane Kruger) who is clearly a recreation of Ms. Argento. (Did AA threaten legal action if they used her real name?) Ms. Kruger plays the role beautifully... she's the perfect match for Savannah, aggressive and passionate on the surface, but cold and opportunistic underneath. There's also an impressive short scene with Courtney Love, who plays a friend of Laura's. Watching the producers of "J.T. LeRoy" try to sell the scam all over again to audiences under a different guise this time is almost like experiencing the whole sordid mess a second time around. I'm actually reading reviews of this film describing it as an example of "gender fluidity." Seriously? Wow. This was never a case of gender dysphoria and was actually very simple: Laura Albert and Savannah Koop's actions were based solely on deceit, manipulation and greed, and they should have seen some jail time for fraud. At one point it appears that the filmmakers are attempting to sympathize with Dern's character as she explains that J.T. LeRoy was her alter ego. If that's the truth, she should have presented LeRoy as just that, rather than manipulating Ms. Koop to create a literal human being who didn't exist in order to collect large sums of money and string many, many people along. It's even sadder to believe that Ms. Koop is still profiting from this hoax, as she shares co-writing credit for writing the screenplay for this film. I'm sure she didn't do it for free.
A young woman named Savannah Knoop spends six years pretending to be the celebrated author JT LeRoy, the made-up literary persona of her sister-in-law.
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May 2, 2019