Director Jeff Feuerzeig
After a brief opening of archival footage showing Winona Ryder introducing novelist JT LeRoy to an audience, the film cuts to this quote on screen from Federico Fellini: “A created thing is never invented and it is never true: it is always and ever itself.” I don’t know what that really means, or what Fellini intended by it, but he certainly was in the business of creating much that wasn’t true but inventive and ever itself – an apt thought for this documentary which I viewed without knowing it was a documentary, and wondering throughout the film whether it was wholly invented.
The nature of truth, reality, authenticity and authorship are explored, and, if we can take Laura Albert/JT LeRoy/Speedie/Terminator/and all the personas created by her, at her word, the spiderweb spun by Ms. Albert is the result of a troubled childhood which included sexual abuse and institutionalization, and an impromptu creation of several personas which she says (or does she?) is not multiple personality disorder, taken to incredible lengths. The film is both fascinating and disturbing, especially because Albert never really embraces the fact that she lied and perpetuated those lies, with the help or conspiracy (depending on your point of view) of her husband and sister in-law. She doesn’t come off as someone with a mental illness who’s telling her journey of healing, and instead never let’s us really know whether she was delusional or just a creative and crafty artist. That she choose all she did while raising her son, leaving him with lot’s to unpack as he matures, is also concerning.
Kudos to Mr. Feuerzeig for maintaining the sense of fuzzy truth/reality as the story unfolds. Setting Albert as the first person on-camera narrator establishes what she says as the “truth”, yet he keeps us guessing as to whether she is truthful, a liar, or really mentally ill with multiple personalities. One of the several relationships we hear from message machine recordings (that she made and kept?) are with a psychotherapist, who seems to treat her as a patient. We never hear directly from him about whether he believes she’s delusional or is manifesting multiple personalities, but it sure seems like he does.
Albert fools so many people – agents, publishers, artists, etc – and never seems too conflicted about the ruse she’s perpetuating, as she’s caught up in success, fame and celebrity. When the lies all come crashing down, we don’t get the sense that she was very scathed by it, although we get glimpses of her “confession” calls to Asia Argento, for example, who might have an even bigger beef with Savannah, Albert’s sister-in-law who embodied the persona of JT LeRoy and apparently had a unspecified romantic liaison with Asia.
I never felt a sense of being in Albert’s corner, even though I am sympathetic about her suffering abuse. But even that sympathy comes when the abuse is revealed at the very end of the film, and it feels more like an excuse for all she’s done, rather than a root cause of her personality and choices. Fascinating story, but I still wonder how much is true. If that was Feuerzeig’s intent, then well done, even if I end up not caring much about the truth teller. Should See.
- Justin Chang in the LA Times is spot-on. “You may well question the worth of a documentary that so fully embraces the perspective of a narrator this unreliable, just as you may crave the reassuring conventions of a more balanced filmmaking approach. But even for those who don’t regard the notion of perfect objectivity with the wariness it deserves, there are compensatory insights in this movie’s unapologetic fascination with its subject.”