A Literary Hoax Comes To The Screen

Based on true events, one of this century’s biggest literary hoaxes receives the full-blown biopic treatment starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Diane Kruger. J.T. Leroy creatively explores the thin line between fantasy and reality as an author misleads everyone in the literary world as to their true identity, going so far as hiring a stand-in to make appearances as the author.

Author Laura Albert (Laura Dern) created the fictional persona of J.T. Leroy, writing an autobiography under that pseudonym as the hard-luck son of a truckstop prostitute.

When the reticent Leroy’s novel becomes a bestseller and the darling of the literary world, Laura hires her boyfriend’s sister Savannah (Kristen Stewart) to play Leroy for press engagements. Things spiral out of control as the androgynous Savannah begins to enjoy playing the mysterious author a little too much, hobnobbing in Hollywood circles as J.T.’s novel gets adapted by a thirsty actress fawning over him. It’s like if David Bowie had hired someone else to play Ziggy Stardust and no one knew it was Bowie really making the music.

Savannah Knoop’s memoir Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy serves as the film’s loose inspiration. Happening in San Francisco in the early 2000s, Savannah “became” the reclusive author under Laura Albert’s coaching. Needing a body for the identity she had created, the creative woman pegged the quirky outsider Savannah as the perfect fit for Leroy. Savannah took to it like a duck in water.

…quirky, enjoyable, and occasionally messy ride about a true literary hoax

Making things difficult for their charade is that J.T. Leroy was supposed to be a young man. Laura pushes the androgynous young woman into the role but increasing exposure leads to the press questioning Leroy’s identity and life story. There is only so much a wig and giant sunglasses can hide for so long before fans and others in the media start questioning everything.

Kristen Stewart loses herself in the role. One wonders if Stewart was fishing for award recognition by taking this part. She’s virtually unrecognizable, fully embracing J.T. Leroy’s almost genderless appearance. It’s a brave choice and her charismatic performance is a big reason to watch the movie.

Despite the presence of several major Hollywood actresses and cameos by people such as Courtney Love, director Justin Kelly’s movie feels like a small indie production more than anything else. It’s a small, intimate drama about two women, Laura Albert and Savannah, pulling an elaborate hoax over the literary world for some time before it all comes crashing down. Diane Kruger smartly plays a big-time actress that falls in love with J.T. Leroy’s life story, hoping to get it made for the screen.

J.T. Leroy is a quirky, enjoyable and occasionally messy ride about a true literary hoax. The movie drags in places and likely sugarcoats what actually happened for the benefit of those involved, but it has interesting subject matter and winning performances.

Video

The clean, crisp cinematography’s video quality won’t blow anyone away in what is otherwise a flawless Blu-ray presentation. Universal does stellar work most of the time on Blu-ray and J.T. Leroy is no exception. The 2.39:1 movie offers excellent detail and clarity, possibly revealing too much of the make-up work for Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart. Close-ups have abundant texture and strong resolution. This is fine 1080P video befitting a new studio release.

The AVC compression encode clocks in at strong bitrates on a BD-50. The effortless transparency captures every nuance without artifacts. A vivid contrast and inky black levels help the razor-sharp definition.

Audio

J.T. Leroy includes serviceable 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio with no major surprises. The dialogue-driven drama and biopic has a few musical moments thanks to songs from Dusty Springfield and others. The surround mix provides rear ambience and support for the score. The well-done audio design and mixing deftly involves the LFE channel. This is a discrete presentation that doesn’t overwhelm the listener but offers a comfortable soundstage with real presence.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font, always remaining inside the 2.39:1 presentation.

Extras

Universal provides no special features, not even a single trailer.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

JT LeRoy
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Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern lead this interesting look at this century’s biggest literary hoax.

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