Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess
Director: Justin Kelly
Going into this movie, I had no idea about the story behind J.T. Leroy and the rise and fall of a talented author, but after watching J.T. Leroy, I have this feeling that there was far more to the story than what we were shown here. Somewhere there’s a deep and compelling story about mental illness, abuse, and the spotlight created by fame, but it’s nowhere to be found here. While the stacked cast keeps the movie afloat, J.T. Leroy is too jumbled to truly explore the subject matter to the best of its ability and showcase exactly what the real J.T. Leroy experience looked like.
The film follows Laura Albert (Dern), a gifted yet troubled writer who writes under the moniker J.T. Leroy so she can channel her emotions and not have to deal with the publicity of being a prolific author. As public appearances begin to become more highly requested, she convinces her friend Savannah Knoop (Stewart) to appear as this fictitious character and show off his shy and reserved demeanor. With this character finally in the limelight, now is the opportunity for the people behind it to be exposed and for the whole idea to go up in flames. I’m torn about this movie because it is based on real people and a unique situation, but the way it’s shown really undermines the abuse that the real Laura Albert went through. There’s a significant emphasis on the fakeness and glamour of Hollywood and the environment of that industry, but it’s done so at a Holden Caulfield level of interpretation where it comes across as one-dimensional and whiny. There are deeper topics that can and need to be discussed in this movie, but the movie focuses more on the rise and fall of the character and less on the events surrounding it which are both more interesting and tragic. While the story is seemingly lacking, the two main performances help keep this movie level and help it from falling into a truly bad place. The contrast between Laura and Savannah and figuring out what both of them want in these scenarios is interesting and only works because of the performances of Dern and Stewart. The film is only 108 minutes long, but with the back-and-forth between the two and an inability for the movie to stay on point, it ends up feeling much longer than what it actually is. It’s a shame, because somewhere deep down J.T. Leroy is a good movie, it just didn’t hit the right notes to emphasize the points that it was trying to make. I don’t know much about Kelly’s background, but he seems to be getting more opportunities as the years pass. I’ve never seen any of his other movies, but if they’re as jumbled and messy as this one, I have a hard time believing he will ever make the transition into something more widespread or mainstream. The general premise is there, but unfortunately J.T. Leroy gets in front of its own way and never gives us the depth or payoff we deserve.
Overall, J.T. Leroy is definitely a unique movie, but one that takes things that audiences can empathize with and makes them, trite, boring, and unrelatable. It doesn’t matter talented Dern or Stewart are when they’re placed in a situation where they’re almost guaranteed to fail. Their performances are overshadowed by a movie taking the wrong approach to sensitive subject matter and failing to show us more the underlying issues that caused these problems rather than the problems themselves.
Overall Score: 4/10