Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart at the "J.T. Leroy" Los Angeles Premiere. Sthanlee B. Mirador/TNS
Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern faced a unique performance challenge with “JT LeRoy.” Both actors had to find an acting symbiotic relationship to make the title character — who is fictional, despite the film being based on a true story — come to life both spiritually and physically.
Had either wavered in instilling such believable elements, the movie would not have been as emotionally strong. But they both supplied deep and meaningful performances.
The fact-based story that put the actors into such a scenario starts with best-selling author Laura Albert (Dern), who wrote under the made-up literary persona of JT LeRoy.
The fake character was Albert’s way of avoiding the public push that comes with best-selling works — especially those that touch people as deeply as her works did.
What starts as a bit of slight of hand turns into a full-blown cover-up as Knoop is forced (partly because of the money) to make numerous trips to first seal a deal to make one of Albert’s books into a movie and then to deal with Eva, the actress (Diane Kruger) determined to direct the film. It’s not necessarily the fear of discovery that begins to chip away at the masquerade but Albert’s jealousy at not being as famous as her fake self and Snoop’s growing affection for Eva.
Justin Kelly and the real Knoop created a script based on her book “Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy,” which masterfully weaves all the emotional, physical and pop culture threads of the tale into a textured presentation of love and the addictive nature of celebrity. It’s solid writing, but only works because of standout effort by the two lead actors.
Kristen Stewart in "JT LeRoy."Photographer: Allen Fraser/TNS
Dern has always been a big presence in both the real world and onscreen.
Taking on the role of the fast-talking writer who lives a life almost as bizarre as the characters in her book looks to be a comfortable fit.
She can be a fireball when she’s trying to win someone over, slightly insane in her manipulating people and aloof when dealing with people’s lives as if they could be edited out if necessary.
In contrast, Stewart presents a quieter persona, both onscreen and off. She also seems comfortable taking on the role of a person who seems so insecure with the world, she not only agrees to the madness of the initial subterfuge but gets on board as it begins to change from small ripple to overwhelming tsunami.
The other layer Kelly examines so thoroughly is the blindness that comes with obsession. Whether it is someone desperate to close a deal (Courtney Love) or a hungry director who is looking for a film that will establish her credits on both sides of the camera, the film is a fascinating study in whether the strength of a hoax comes from the creator or from the parties willing to accept whatever is handed to them as the truth.
Accepting the events in “JT LeRoy” to be true is difficult at times because what transpires is so outlandish. Once you wrap your head around that this tale of a hoax is legitimate and give yourself over to the strong performances by Dern and Stewart, then the film will offer all the proof that reality, in some cases, is all you want to make of it.
Tribune News Service
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