Laura Albert is a writer, and a liar, and a fraud, and possibly, as people have certainly tried to argue, a sociopath. She's also a mesmerizing subject for a documentary, which Author: The JT LeRoy Story director Jeff Feuerzeig understands very well. He plunks Albert in front of a backdrop of blown-up text from one of the novels she published under the name JT LeRoy. She then narrates her own tale of acquiring literary fame and a collection of even more famous friends by pretending to be a waifish young West Virginia man whose background included abuse, drug addiction, poverty, and sex work. At the height of LeRoy's early-’00s fame — with Albert's sister-in-law Savannah Knoop taking on LeRoy's in-person appearances — he was swanning around with the likes of Winona Ryder, Billy Corgan, Gus Van Sant, and Bono, many of whom are heard in the film, in the form of the tapes Albert made of all her phone calls.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story is, among other things, an incredible peek at celebrities at their most unguarded, thanks to its queasy sampling of conversations with people who didn't know they were being recorded. Albert craved the spotlight, craved recognition, and displays an amoral and genuinely genius understanding of stardom as a commodity that's anointed and spread and can be traded on. She created a character whose tragedies, which for a time also included HIV, were intriguing, even romantic to the audience she pulled in, providing an authenticity and glamour that she — thirtysomething, overweight, a sidekick in her own rise — didn't think was available to her. Feuerzeig doesn't ever challenge Albert as she describes LeRoy not as an act of calculation but as something closer to an alternate personality arising within her, revealing a rough background of her own. It's a risky choice, but by the end of the movie, Albert has woven a defense so enthralling that, whether you buy it or not, will make it difficult to scoff at the gullibility of those who fell for her well-crafted narrative the first time around.
How to see it: Author: The JT LeRoy Story is playing in select theaters around the country — you can find a list of cities here.