Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

JT LeRoy, or: Wigging Out

Perhaps appropriately, 2020 is in with a non-committal shrug. Will it come with the shiny potential a new year brings? Meh.

The year promises to be in line with our first pick for the Blog Collab 2020 as it is similarly likely to feature apathetic hipsters, inappropriate gaslighting attempts, and ’90s nostalgia out the wazoo.

The Film:

JT LeRoy

The Premise:

Based on a true story, a woman in ’90s San Francisco pretends to be the made-up persona of a trendy writer.

The Ramble:

Savannah is a young woman looking forward to the possibilities of living in a new city–San Francisco, specifically–with her brother Geoff and his live-in girlfriend Laura. Both are part of what is most likely a painfully grungy underground band, and Laura is not-so-carefully guarding a secret: she is the writer JT LeRoy, behind the edgy pseudo-memoir everyone is talking about. Her biggest secret? JT is a persona she has made up, pretending to be him on the phone and always making excuses for his refusal to be seen in public.

a woman wearing '90s grunge clothes sits in a dimly lit living room, gesturing to a character off-screen

After reading the novel for herself, Savannah feels deeply connected to the words and persona of JT. The book is supposedly based on JT’s real experiences as the child of a sex worker who provided services to men at truck stops. Laura asks Savannah to pose for a picture as JT by donning a wig (one of so many featured) just this one time. Famous last words.

More and more, Savannah appears as JT LeRoy for magazines and in public appearances. The persona of JT is naturally awkward and standoffish, working conveniently well for Laura’s purposes. Posing as his manager (with a rather cringey British accent), Laura effectively answers any question that comes JT’s way.

an androgynous young man poses for a photographer, wearing women's clothing and dark sunglasses

Though uneasy with the arrangement and constantly convinced she’s about to get caught, Savannah does enjoy trying on the role of JT. She has extra incentive to keep up the charade when she meets director and actress Ava, who is keen to get the film rights for the novel. However, this does complicate her personal life and relationship with her boyfriend.

When the book’s publishers agree to send JT and his manager to Paris, Savannah has the chance to get closer to Ava. But is there a real connection there when Savannah is pretending to be a 19-year-old boy with a traumatic childhood? Laura suspects not and, worried about her loosening control over the situation, tells Savannah that Ava only cares about the film rights.

a woman smokes a cigarette, seated next to an androgynous young man wearing a dark hat and sunglasses

Meanwhile, Laura is neglecting her relationship with Geoff, as well as her commitment to the band. But the JT act is going swimmingly. JT LeRoy is such an avant garde hipster that any challenges to his identity or history are easily shaken with a blasé shrug.

Once the film begins rolling, Savannah feels more conflicted about lying to Ava about who she is, and the existence of JT altogether. Despite pressure from Laura, Savannah decides to give up the act. However, after the film is completed and accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, Savannah agrees to make one final appearance as JT. We all know how that goes…right?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Laura Dern in all of her ’90s grunge finery alone makes this film worth a watch. LD, like she does in basically everything, looks GOOD. And her ever-rotating quirky grunge looks are so delightful here.

However, considering the madness of the story itself, it’s a bit of a letdown that my only real question here is “So what?” We don’t get a whole lot of insight into why Laura and Savannah hatch the JT LeRoy scheme. There are some half-explanations about Laura’s past in a group home, her mystical connection to the character of JT, and her need for recognition as an author without being fully in the spotlight. Savannah’s motives are similarly superficial–and if that’s truly the case, making this film seems like a waste of time. I hoped for an inside look into what made these two tick, but it falls flat. Even their relationship isn’t particularly convincing, and the two seem to annoy each other more than anything else.

I’m disappointed that, like its subject, this film takes the too-cool-for-you hipster brush off approach rather than pausing to offer a thoughtful reflection.

Would my grungy blog wife party with this one, unwashed hair and all, or slowly put on her oversized shades and walk away? Read her review here to find out!