J.T. Leroy (2018)

Based on the true story of author J.T. Leroy, this drama surely has its moments and strong performances, but there just seems to be something missing. The story itself is fascinating: Leroy was an evasive but bestselling author who published an autobiographical account of his childhood at the hands of an abusive mother, and who was later revealed to be a pseudonym for a middle-aged female writer (played by Laura Dern) who had concocted the entire story. The movie opens with the con already under way, and then focuses on Dern’s sister-in-law (played here by Kristen Stewart), who stepped in as a stand-in for Leroy for public appearances, and it’s just about the least interesting part of the entire story. Stewart is strong in the role but it’s a rather undemanding and dull one, and it’s frustrating that the movie’s narrative keeps its focus on her ambivalence about participating in the scheme instead of, well, anything else. Along with Stewart, Dern is good in her role but she’s chronically underdeveloped, but at least Diane Krueger does some great work as a stand-in for actress-director Asia Argento (who adapted Leroy’s novel into a borderline-unwatchable parade of child abuse horrors in 2004). It’s the type of good-but-not-great indie movie that doesn’t quite come together as a whole, primarily because it manages to fumble a home-run of a narrative by focusing on a remote, almost peripheral aspect of a fascinating, infamous literary scheme.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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