BBased on Savannah Knoop’s memoir, Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy, JT Leroytells the true story of deception and lies behind one of the greatest literary hoaxs of our time.Author of a NY Times best-seller,Laura Albert (Laura Dern) writes as her “avatar,” a disenfranchised young queer man named JT LeRoy. When JT becomes a literary darling, asks her boyfriend’s androgynous sister, Savannah (Kristen Stewart) to be JT in the public eye.As they gradually infiltrate the Hollywood and literary elite, the lines between truth and lies collide as they discover who they are while living as someone else.
Directed by Justin Kelly (I Am Michael) and co-written with Knoop herself, JT Leroyis an interesting look at the trappings of fame and the compromises we’re often willing to make to get there. Although the dialogue is uneven in places, stars Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart do a solid job of bringing the material to life, portraying their characters with earnestness. As the ‘voice of JT’, Laura Albert, Dern brings her character to life, as she remains caught in the tension between keeping the notoriety and wanting to speak for herself.
One of the most intriguing aspects of JT LeRoyis how seemingly believable the film is in today’s culture. As Albert and Knoop dig deeper into the character of LeRoy, there is a pageantry that accompanies their celebrity that doesn’t seem that far-fetched in a world obsessed with Instagram and visual presentations. While the film takes place in pre-Facebook era of the early-2000s (otherwise known as the ‘Dark Ages’), the film feels… current as it recognizes a world that wants to believe everything they see. (‘When you meet someone new, do you question who they say they are?,’ Albert argues.) To Albert, what matters most is that people believe that her story is authentic, rather than know the truth itself.
Of course, this question of the truth is what ultimately lies at the heart of JT LeRoyitself. Though Knoop is at first put off by the awkwardness of lying about her identity, she soon becomes addicted to living a double life. Meanwhile, Albert celebrates the challenge of living as JT, a character she feels ‘flows out of her’ naturally. Having blended the lines between truth and fiction in her book, bringing LeRoy to life allows her to express her deepest pains in an [arguably] safe manner. (Interestingly, the film also references the journey of Colette, another TIFF ’18 selection that focuses on a woman’s literary nom-de-plume as a man.)
Though the character is ultimately a lie, to Albert and Knoop, he feelsreal. In fact, as people gradually become more suspicious of the façade, Albert and Knoop have also began to inhibit the character with such enthusiasm that—for them—LeRoy is slowly becoming the truth. For them, the lines have blurred between reality and fiction. For a culture that feels like authenticity is lost, this is a story that wants to ask what identity really looks like in a culture in the midst of crisis. (Asked by a reporter how they know JT is who they say he is, a disguised Knoop simply throws the question back on them, stating ‘How do we know who you are?’) There is an openness and fluidity to reality in this film that mirrors a culture where the moorings of truth have shifted dramatically, especially in terms of identity.
Ultimately, JT LeRoy doesn’t really have specific answers for such questions but that may be the point. The story of Knoop’s journey as LeRoy doesn’t seek to tell you who you are but, rather, to encourage you to ask the question for yourself.
JT Leroyspins its story in theatres beginning on May 3rd, 2019.