Not long after moving to San Francisco, aspiring artist Savannah meets her brother’s girlfriend Laura Albert. Over six years, she impersonates the literary icon of the moment, JT Leroy, who is in fact a character Laura created as the author of her books. Together they navigate the world of celebrities, press and the literary scene, Savannah embodying JT physically while Laura writes his words. But with the risk of exposure hanging over their heads, they have to decide who they really are.
If you aren’t familiar with JT Leroy or the real author herself, Laura Albert and the hoax media circus that surrounded her and Savannah Knoop back in the early 2000s, this is a fascinating character piece with a view into how Knoop embodied the physical persona. This is about Knoop and her journey, where it begins and ends. Laura is present, is the driving force behind this charade because of her own insecurities and issues. Its delicate telling of a story of the real-life event, with some details changed.
With an aesthetics of the late 90s and early 2000s, the costumes, colours and feel of the film bring alive the time of JT Leroy, the height of his popularity as well as giving an insight to how Knoop and Albert felt. Kristen Stewart is brilliant as Savannah, showing her pain and worry over whether what the two women are doing is right. But Laura Dern does really steal the screen with her portrayal of the writer Laura Albert. Equal parts a version of how she was perceived by others as well as evoking sympathy for her past and her struggles with being pushed out of the spot light and not appreciated as the real author. Together Justin Kelly and Knoop have created a story and film for fans of JT Leroy, those who enjoyed the media circus of the mystery and for those who are only now discovering the real story as well as the books.
Dir: Justin Kelly
Scr: Savannah Knoop, Justin Kelly
Based on: Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy by Savannah Knoop
DoP: Bobby Bukowski
Music: Tim Kvasnosky
Country: USA, Canada, UK
Running time: 108 minutes
JT Leroy was first screened at BFI Flare 2019 and will be released later this year