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Parents' Guide to

J.T. LeRoy

By Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Fascinating true story hooks into gender identity issues.

Movie R 2019 108 minutes
J.T. LeRoy Poster Image

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The true story this biopic is based on has seamy tabloid appeal, but the movie digs deeper to show how two troubled people temporarily found solutions to their problems through their ruse. More than a decade after the LeRoy scandal originally broke, stories of gender identity struggles are relatively common -- but in 2005, the public assumed that Knoop and Albert were merely con artists who were trying to be something they weren't in order to gain fame, attention, and money. As viewers soon realize in this sympathetic portrayal, they were, in fact, people who genuinely wished to transcend both their problematic bodies and their lives. "Warhol, Ziggy Stardust, Grace Jones," says Albert dreamily, naming performers with outrageous stage personas. "What if you wake up this morning and say 'I want to be somebody else?' That's what they did." Revelations of sexual abuse and trauma in Albert's background are hazily referred to, complicating that character's narrative.

Knoop, meanwhile, is more interested in extricating herself from a body that she refuses to feed, lest she gain "curves" (Girl Boy Girl, Knoop's memoir on which this movie is based, candidly discusses the eating disorders both Albert and Knoop suffer from). She also finds unexpected fulfillment in pretending to be male. "Technically we're lying," she muses to her brother. "But it feels like a performance. And I'm so compelled to do it," she says, likening her new J.T. obsession to the joy he feels in making music. Knoop has been waiting for these feelings of contentment and rightness for so long -- it's only in binding her breasts and being accepted as male that she starts to experience them. Seeing the pleasure that Knoop and Albert take in their joint success is exciting -- and nerve-wracking, as viewers know it won't last. The relationship between the two soon curdles, with Albert jealous that she's not getting the in-person adulation Knoop garners and Knoop furious that Albert doesn't give her due credit for J.T.'s existence. Watching Albert steam under her fire-engine red wig as she pretends to be LeRoy's friend/handler "Speedie," ignored while Knoop is fawned over, viewers know that J.T. can't last. The magic of J.T. LeRoy is that it somehow makes you wish he could have gone on even just a bit longer.

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