Author: The JT LeRoy Story
AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY, documentary, rated R, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 4 chiles
As a teenager, Laura Albert began making calls to crisis hotlines. Though her own childhood was one of abuse, neglect, and mental illness, she always invented a more dramatic life for herself, using a male persona when she spoke to the supportive phone counselors. In the early 1990s, then in her late twenties and newly married, Albert was still indulging in this hobby when a therapist encouraged her — or the thirteen-yearold boy he thought she was — to write about her life. This set in motion what has become known as one of the greatest literary hoaxes of all time.
But in Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Albert rejects the word “hoax,” and for good reason. As LeRoy, the gender-fluid ex-junkie son of a truckstop prostitute, Albert wrote three critically acclaimed works of fiction, including Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Fearing she would be rejected by readers because she looked nothing like the persona she had created, Albert paid her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to pose as LeRoy for public appearances. Once embodied by Knoop, LeRoy became an international literary it-boy. Knoop, as LeRoy, hobnobbed with celebrities like Bono and Courtney Love and even found work as a fashion model, with Albert acting as his British assistant, “Speedie,” all the while. When the deception was discovered by the media in 2006, some friends, fans, and family felt betrayed. But the books really exist, Albert reminds us, and she really wrote them, so the hoax, if that’s what it was, wasn’t exactly literary. Author, written and directed by Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston), is not the kind of documentary that answers fundamental questions surrounding Albert, such as whether she is truly delusional, a narcissistic liar, or an opportunistic performance artist with some agenda that, if revealed, would make sense of the whole saga. Whether everything she tells us about her early life is true — and whether or not it actually explains her behavior — is for viewers to ponder on their own. To Albert, LeRoy is part of her and also separate, and Knoop, as a person, doesn’t seem to exist at all. Author is Albert’s version of events, full stop, and watching her tell it is riveting, as is witnessing just how many very famous people befriended her on the strength of her writing. Mary Karr, Tom Waits, Gus Van Sant — the list goes on.
Albert was always on the outside looking in, ashamed of her weight and sure that no one would want to know her, so she continually reinvented herself until she all but disappeared. Knoop, in her brief appearance in this well-made, well-paced movie, says they got away with it because people believe what they are told. Author is an effectively dizzying fall down the same rabbit hole LeRoy climbed out of in the first place. — Jennifer Levin
Through the looking glass: Savannah Knoop (as JT LeRoy) and Laura Albert