Review: 'JT LeRoy', Kristen Stewart And Laura Dern Are Better Than This Dull Literary Hoax Drama

There's a better movie about the "JT LeRoy" literary hoax that burned Hollywood than the one Justin Kelly provides with JT LeRoy. Encompassing everything from sexual identity to authorship to celebrity scandal, the story of how Laura Albert convinced the entire world her sister-in-law Savanna Knoop was the androgynous truck-stop prostitute of her bestselling novels goes so deep down the rabbit hole there are lies on top of lies on top of intimate deceptions.

And yet JT LeRoy is as thin and dull as the self-deluded celebs who fell for Albert's ridiculous scheme. Kelly, who has explored gay culture in films such as I Am Michael and King Cobra, does little with this intriguing premise and his two incredible stars: Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart. Things pick up with Savannah's arrival in L.A., and Laura's already in the midst of her deceit. A wannabe rocker from Brooklyn, Laura had written the bestselling novel "Sarah" about a West Virginia boy trapped in a life of sex, drugs, and violence. The novel caught on like wildfire, making JT LeRoy the toast of the town, only no one had ever seen the author.

It's never made clear why Laura feels she needs to pull off this charade, and it's an oversight that keeps us at a distance. She enlists Savannah, her husband's (Jim Sturgess) sister-in-law, to play JT in public because everybody wants a piece of him. The demand is too great. And Savannah,  who is enamored with the idea of celebrity, relishes living the life of another. She becomes entangled with an actress, Eva (Diane Kruger), who is based on real-life actress Asia Argento who was duped by the hoax worse than others. Argento went so far as to adapt one of JT LeRoy's books, "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things", which debuted at Cannes.

As emotions get tangled up and Savannah grapples with her bisexuality and the complex sexuality she must represent as JT, Kelly fails to explore this facet with any depth. Part of the reason is Savannah herself, who is such a reserved, passive character that she's wrong to focus the narrative around. Laura is unquestionably the more interesting of the two, as her need for fame reaches pathological levels and nearly destroys the people she loves. Stewart and Dern do their best to serve these complicated but underwritten women, but I couldn't shake the feeling they deserve better than what JT LeRoy has to offer. If you already know the details then it provides little insight, and if you don't then it may not seem like all of the fuss was worth it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5