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Author: The JT Leroy Story is a documentary that taps into a truly fascinating story, but is in desperate need of more perspective and a broader scope.
JT Leroy was a literary persona created by Laura Albert that for an extended period of time was believed to be an actual person with a childhood defined by prostitution, drug addiction and vagrancy. Albert’s sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, would act as JT Leroy during public appearances, while Albert would write the novels herself. The reality of the situation was revealed in a 2005 exposé, leading to a lot of controversy.
Author: The JT Leroy focuses almost exclusively on Laura Albert’s personal account of everything that happened, going back to the very beginning. She’s very open about her troubled childhood, as well as her mindset and reasoning for crafting the JT Leroy persona, one of many “avatars” that she would develop for herself and her close circle of friends and family.
It’s a fascinating and very complex story, which is why its somewhat unfortunate that the documentary does not explore more than Albert’s take on it. It’s undoubtedly interesting to hear what she has to say about all of this, and her explanation is complicated enough to warrant a lot of time being spent on her childhood and teenage years, but her voice is far from the only one that’s worth hearing here. This becomes particularly apparent towards the end, as the documentary tackles the controversy surrounding the exposé. We are told that there was a wide range of reactions from the public, but we never get to see them. Interviews with some of the high-profile celebrities that were in JT Leroy’s radar would have helped a lot here, especially since Albert herself makes it clear that many of them responded in different ways to the news.
What about Savannah Knoop? Why did she agree to pretend she was JT Leroy? What is her take on everything that happened? For such an important, prominent figure, she’s barely in the movie. Laura talks about her and many other people indirectly, and her input is valuable, but it’s also more than a little overbearing.
It’s frustrating because the movie does have a wealth of archival footage and audio recordings to work with and access to the heart of the story. It just lacks scope.
The best kind of documentary is the one that makes you feel informed on a particular issue, person or story. No documentary can ever truly be the definitive account of anything, but they can be complete and fully realized. Author: The JT Leroy Story does not feel complete.
It’s easy to see what could have been cut to make room for a broader perspective and additional voices. There are lots of sequences early on that feel the need to over-visualize what’s happening or being told to us. Introducing a stylized visual element makes sense to an extent, considering just how much of the early story is being told through audio recordings and such, but there are several sequences that are just style over substance – like a fully animated clip that re-enacts parts of Albert’s writing.
Author: The JT Leroy Story is disappointingly one-dimensional, considering the intricacies of the story it’s trying to tell. It has a key piece of the mystery, but you can’t complete a puzzle with just one piece. It’s definitely worth watching, but anyone truly interested in the JT Leroy story will need a lot of supplementary material to go with it.