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Film review: 'Author: The JT LeRoy Story'

This fascinating film uncovers the story behind the fictitious author JT LeRoy and the real woman behind the hoax.

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  • | 1:10 p.m. September 27, 2016
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"You can't make this stuff up" is an apt phrase to describe "Author: The JT LeRoy Story." Ironically, the film is a true story — about lies that got way out of control.

Around 1994, author Laura Albert created a fictional writer named JT LeRoy. In 2006, The New York Times exposed her hoax, and all hell broke loose. It seems the world was duped into thinking LeRoy really existed. And Albert went to great lengths to promote the misconception.

The real-life Laura Albert was a 40-year-old former phone-sex operator who later became a housewife. Her fictional writer persona, LeRoy, was a young transgender boy, HIV-positive truck-stop prostitute and heroin user. He claimed to have been abused from childhood. When influential celebrities became enamored by the raw authenticity of LeRoy's plight, they were eager to get involved.

Albert went as far as convincing her boyfriend's sister, Savannah, to physically play the part of the nonexistent LeRoy. Soon, she/he was hanging out with the likes of Bono, Michael Pitt, Courtney Love and director Gus Van Sant, who actually optioned the LeRoy novel, "Sarah" for a film.

LeRoy even makes it to Cannes for a stroll down the red carpet. Really.

The entire film is narrated by Albert while on screen. Director Jeff Feuerzeig manages to make all of this deceit look quite subjective. His documentation includes cassette recordings, actual home movies from Albert's past and interview footage of rock stars, actors and directors. Even Savannah, a.k.a. LeRoy, allows herself to be filmed making remarkable statements. It's simultaneously sick and utterly fascinating to watch.

Eventually, Laura Albert was sued for fraud by a film company, and the right to free speech came into play. Albert maintained the invention of JT LeRoy was, sadly, a response to vicious abuse she endured in her childhood.

One can't help wonder why this intelligent woman never sought treatment. It also begs the question, is she telling the truth?


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