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!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Always Be My Maybe, or: Quail Egg Parfait

I love a food movie. I love a story of a career woman stepping all over dirtbag men on her way to the top. And I love an unexpected celebrity cameo. All of these interests combine in this week’s pick–though do they complement each other perfectly or fight for dominance in the dish that is this film? Read on to find out!

The Film:

Always Be My Maybe

The Premise:

Childhood besties Sasha and Mike seemed destined to end up together but missed their chance years ago. Will history repeat itself 16 years later?

The Ramble:

Growing up in San Francisco in the 1990s, Sasha and Mike are inseparable friends who also sport a lot of plaid and shaggy boy band hair. With frequently absent parents, Sasha naturally becomes part of Mike’s family, even learning to cook from his mom Judy.

Two Asian-American kids are dressed as characters from the movie Wayne's World.

Everything changes when an accident ends Judy’s life, leaving both Sasha and Mike devastated. Mike decides he won’t go to college in favor of staying home and focusing on his band, while Sasha seeks comfort by taking their relationship to the next level.

Their romance isn’t meant to last, as a fight immediately after their hookup leads to a falling out. Sasha leaves San Francisco without looking back, and the two don’t speak for 16 years.

In the present, Sasha is a rising celebrity chef with a successful fiancé who also promotes her brand. Just before leaving New York to open a new restaurant in San Francisco, Sasha’s fiancé decides to accept a role that will take him to India with other celebrity chefs. Upset but trying to make the best of things, Sasha agrees to their temporary separation.

A man and woman sit in the back of a limousine, looking at their phones instead of each other.

When she arrives in San Francisco, Sasha rents a gorgeous house that is conspicuously missing an A/C unit. Childhood friend Veronica, who now works for Sasha, hires Mike’s father Harry to work on the A/C installation. Little does she know that Mike is now working with his father, setting up an awkward reunion between Sasha and Mike. Sasha is completely uninterested when she’s invited to Mike’s gig, but attending gets her out of the house and gives her a chance to avoid her parents.

After the gig, Mike’s girlfriend Jenny cooks dinner for Sasha and constantly calls Mike “babe.” Sasha loudly and rudely breaks up with her fiancé over the phone at a child’s birthday party, leaving Jenny as the only obstacle between her and Mike. However, Sasha ends up with a celebrity boyfriend after catering a ritzy event, with hilariously devastating results.

At a fancy party, a woman dressed in a gold dress holds the elbow of a man in a t-shirt and oversized jacket.

Even though you can easily Google the celebrity cameo here that truly makes the film, I won’t spoil it here. A double date between the two couples predictably ends badly…though it brings Sasha and Mike together again.

However, their relationship seems doomed to fail when Sasha is determined to leave for New York as planned, while Mike considers San Francisco home–and resents his new role as purse holder for Sasha at fancy black tie events.

Can Sasha and Mike find a way past these obstacles and back to each other?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I appreciate the surprising thoughtfulness of this film about success, ambition, and the difference between being satisfied and simply settling. These themes are analyzed through a feminist lens, as we take a look at Mike’s reluctance to support Sasha’s career and be a “regular guy.” We are immersed in the Asian-American culture of San Francisco too, without feeling like spectators doing cultural tourism. And the take on high-end restaurants and the culture of celebrity chefs is quite sharp (and the quail egg parfait Mike is repeatedly offered sounds vile).

I also absolutely love Mike’s father and his sideplot romance with a Diana Ross impersonator. Most of the other minor characters don’t feel as fully realized, however. Overall, I wanted this to be funnier. The celebrity cameo is the absolute highlight of the film and is genuinely hysterical, but I feel it should have a lot more going for it considering the talent involved. Not a bad way to spend an hour and a half(ish), though.

Would my darling blog wife stalk this one’s Facebook profile in secret or pretend not to know it in public? Read her review here to find out!