The Con Is Off

J.T. LeRoy proves the perils of taking yourself too seriously

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

J.T. LeRoy
Opens June 28

Broadway Theatre
1.5 out of 5

The story of “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” has all the elements of a farce: Laura Albert, a wannabe writer, stumbles into success by adopting the persona of a gay teenage hustler with a history of abuse. “J.T. LeRoy” becomes a literary icon and the talk of Tinseltown almost instantly. Fame’s demands force Albert to develop an avatar for her alter-ego. Enter Savannah Knopp, Laura’s sister-in-law who agrees to play the role of the so-called author.

The con falls apart as “J.T. LeRoy” takes over Savannah’s existence just as she begins to crave independence. In disguise as the author, Knopp becomes involved with the director (allegedly Asia Argento) of a movie based on one of “his” books, who may or may not know the truth about “J.T.” (really?).

Unfortunately for the film adaptation, director Justin Kelly (King Cobra) and Knopp (who co-wrote the script) take themselves so seriously, they fail to exploit the caper elements or the comedic potential of the saga. Instead, they deliver a complete slog of a movie made worse by Kirsten Stewart at her most skittish. She lets her androgynous look do most of the work, but even that approach doesn’t work behind sunglasses and under layers of clothing.

I’m all for movies with antiheroes, but J.T. Leroy lacks likeable characters, they’re flatter than Doug Ford’s brainwaves. As Savannah Knopp, Kristen Stewart’s performance feels like negative space (also, nobody could possibly believe she’s male). Laura Dern as extreme bullshitter Laura Albert doesn’t fare that much better. Just imagine how bad Justin Kelly’s direction must have been to waste one of the most reliable actresses of our time.

I don’t really have anything positive to say about J.T. Leroy. From a production standpoint, it’s fine, but that counts as the bare minimum. The characters have no depth, the dramatic progression is sub-rudimentary and, because of the real-life Savannah Knopp’s involvement, her willful complicity is underplayed.

I guess the film celebrates gender fluidity, though in a convoluted way. Maybe. But endeavors as misconceived as this film rarely have happy endings.