Author: The JT LeRoy Story
- Hannah McGill
- 25 July 2016
Filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig unravels the story of novelist JT LeRoy in this fascinating, if rather one-sided, documentary
Even at the time it was happening, there were clear gaps in the story of JT LeRoy's rise to literary fame. The books published under his name, supposedly based upon his own traumatic upbringing, had a prurience and poeticism that didn't seem like the voice of a feral street child. His biography chopped and changed – did he have AIDS? Was he undergoing gender reassignment? – and there was something unconvincing about the person appearing in public under his name.
Suspension of disbelief is strong in the celebrity world, however, and Leroy amassed an adoring coterie of patrons, among them Winona Ryder, Courtney Love, Shirley Manson and Gus Van Sant. This film documents the unravelling of a myth that had at its centre a gifted writer and audacious literary ventriloquist named Laura Albert. Though several of those affected contribute, director Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) hands the lion's share of the storytelling to Albert herself, thus enabling an intense, articulate, psychobabble-heavy account that springs leaks as readily as it spins self-justifications.
Albert's not straight on whether JT LeRoy was a literary pseudonym, a split personality she developed in response to her own trauma or a discrete entity magically channelled through her body. Indeed, about the only version of events she doesn't try out is the one where she told a lie that got bigger the more money it made her.
Letting her speak is arguably a compassionate strategy as well as a giving of enough rope – we're finally reminded that con artists might well be damaged creatures themselves, hard as it is to tell where the con ends. But the monologue approach has its costs. Intriguing as it is, the film could have done with more voices and facets and less of what one woman's learned about herself in therapy.
Selected release from Fri Jul 29.