While the subject certainly makes for a compelling film, J.T. LeRoy is merely a conventional biopic at best and we’re all the worse for it.
Based on Savannah Knoop’s memoir Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy, we go behind-the-scenes of the literary hoax. Laura Albert (Laura Dern) hires Knoop (Kristen Stewart) to serve as her public face. I can understand Laura wanting to not have to deal with the the fame. It’s a lot to handle. There’s just one major problem with her created persona–Knoop is a queer woman and Albert’s J.T. LeRoy is a queer man. In spite of this, the duo are able to get away with it for a period of six years. Crazy, right?
All of this being said, there are some aspects that make me uncomfortable. While speaking to the press, Knoop–disguised as J.T. LeRoy–challenges the gender identity of a reporter. For one, Knoop has a clear feminine voice but LeRoy is supposed to be a man. The reporter challenges LeRoy’s identity as a man. The audience knows more at the point in which this happens but people had to have suspected something! Unless someone is clearly mocking transgender people with how they identify, their gender identity should not be challenged. But sure enough, this is exactly what Knoop does in this particular scene and it’s uncomfortable.
While the film is only getting released in 2009, the hoax was first revealed in 2005-2006. The two of them clearly go on two very different journeys. Before you know it, everything crashes right in front of their eyes. After that press scene happens, the writing is on the walls.
The whole idea of an author writing with a pseudonym and hiring someone to be that person should be thrilling. On paper, the idea is exciting enough to draw interest. In terms of the film’s execution, not so much. Maybe my thoughts would differ if I watched the film in a different environment–a theater as opposed to screening at home. The environments matter with regards to the experience but that’s a story for another article. My point is this–the film couldn’t keep my attention and I like to think my attention span is rather fine, thank you very much.
The uninspiring J.T. LeRoy falls well short of biopic standards.
DIRECTOR: Justin Kelly
SCREENWRITERS: Justin Kelly and Savannah Knoop
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Courtney Love, with Jim Sturgess and Diane Kruger