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« Women on the Verge at TIFF: abandoned wives, kindergarten teachers, and activists | Main | TIFF Rankings. Plus: Who Does Nicole Kidman Belong To? »

Queer TIFF: "Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy"

by Chris Feil

The newest from King Cobra director Justin Kelly, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, opens with Laura Dern’s gruff, heavy twang voiceover echoing through a dark theatre. Even though the film charts the wild rise of the famous alias author before inevitable and controversial decline, the shock of her accented voice is about as gasp inducing as the film gets. Dern stars as Laura Albert, the artist that created the LeRoy illusion and wrote several successful novels in his voice. The film also stars Kristen Stewart as Savannah Knoop, the woman that Albert convinced to portray JT in public and helped shape him in non-binary Warhol-ish mode. “JT” claims that fiction can be more true than truth (or... something), but Kelly’s film is far from making that case.

Eccentricity is merely window dressing here, but so is pathos. Despite a certain level of easy watchability, the film seldom allows us into Laura and Savannah beyond the standard Greatest Hits approach of biopics. Despite the opportunities to investigate issues present like mental health and the exploitation of one’s identity, Dern and Stewart are left with a monologue or two that reduces both women to obvious terms with little room for richer feeling. The film succeeds admirably on its minor ambitions, but it sets itself an admittedly low bar.

The largest downside to Jerminator LeRoy is how removed it feels from the “author’s” audaciousness, if not necessarily his vacillating queer identity. The film falls into blandness in detailing the rouse, relying largely on Dern’s bawdy and not necessarily good performance to stir some peaks and valleys to its monotone. We’re constantly told the risk in creating the volatile false narrative of JT’s existence but rarely ever feel it, nor is there much sense of how radical his persona was beyond some simple costuming. The material begs a riskier, more keyed in take, and Kelly plays it almost criminally safe; for a subject known for such personality, this biopic (of sorts) struggles to find one of its own.

At best, the film continues to prove Kristen Stewart as one of our most interesting queer performers on screen, absorbing even as she plays characters that get lost in themselves (or like here, in someone else). Without Stewart’s expressive fluidity and ability to create finer points in the broadest of character arcs, the film might be even more of a whiff. Opposite Diane Kruger as a fictional stand-in for Asia Argento, she is able to create some sexual urgency and confused passion where the film lacks it.

While much less exciting than the material warrants, LeRoy is a forgivable misfire that simply lacks sharpness. Its most persuasive moments come when the facade is revealed and Laura reflects on how life imitates art that is itself an imitation, with the pitchforks that came for the protagonist of first novel mirroring the real LeRoy scandal. Finally the film approaches some self-awareness about the story’s layers of gender shock and artistic illusion beyond the surface, and with it something rather human as well.

Grade: C+

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Reader Comments (1)

Bloody Justin Kelly. It annoys me so much that he wants to make movies about such interesting subjects yet has no skill whatsoever to do so. He should mold himself as the next Ryan Murphy and let other people write and direct. It's so sad to think KING COBRA is all we'll ever get of that story.

September 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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