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J.T. LeRoy Movie Review

Fact or Fiction?

"J.T. LeRoy" is the story of how Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart, "Lizzie") became the physical embodiment of early 2000's author J.T. LeRoy, the avatar for actual author Laura Albert (Laura Dern, "Cold Pursuit"). Knoop has just moved to the city and is introduced to Albert, who is dating her brother George (Jim Sturgess, "Cloud Atlas"). By this time Albert has already created a ‘voice' for LeRoy and has conducted some short phone interviews but is increasingly frustrated that she cannot receive more accolades for her work.

Sensing an opportunity in the young Knoop, the author first gets Savannah to pose for one photo that will accompany an interview, and then eventually to be a full stand-in at live events. Knoop is skeptical at the start, but she begins to appreciate the level of freedom that being the androgynous LeRoy provides. She eventually grows to possibly even love the actress Eva (Diane Kruger, "Welcome to Marwen"), a J.T. LeRoy admirer who only seems to care about securing film rights to LeRoy's book.

The story is fairly well known, so instead of digging into every detail, the film is more focused on exploring the issue of identity in its many forms. Savannah is still finding their self at the start and almost seems to use the opportunity of playing the androgynous LeRoy as a way to discover a less timid voice in their own personal life.

Meanwhile, Albert is a very strong personality throughout, but appears to need to shift into other characters regularly in order to keep functioning, almost as if those were other elements of herself that need a chance for release. It is George that sees the potential danger for Knoop and Albert in inhabiting these various personalities for so long. When he tries to get them to stop we see how connected both have become to LeRoy, and that just walking away is not an option.

Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern are simply fantastic in their portrayals of Knoop and Albert, and their performances are what really make the film click. Stewart manages a pitch-perfect portrayal of all the right levels of shy and damaged in her performance. As a result she is extremely believable as a young version of the real-life Knoop.

As a balance to Stewart's reserved approach, Dern is a bundle of manic energy in a great way. She slips in and out of different characters in a way that seems effortlessly natural, as though Albert might not even be fully aware that she is changing. Special mention also goes to Jim Sturgess here, as his minimalist Keanu Reeves-esque take on George is oddly just right.

The main issue with "J.T. LeRoy" is that it comes across as an apology piece for Knoop. Blame is not fully cast on any character throughout, but there does seem to be an undercurrent implying that Knoop is more innocent than everyone else.  This could be the natural byproduct of the project being based on a memoir written by Knoop - who also co-wrote the script - but this perspective shines through a little too much. The film would have been better served by spending more time on how being found out affected Savannah.

But that shortcoming should not stop one from watching "J.T. LeRoy." You don't need to be familiar with the actual story, or to be a fan of Kristen Stewart or Laura Dern, to enjoy the movie. Sadly, this one will probably not get the attention it deserves outside of the audiences that are already looking for it.

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