‘Author: The JT LeRoy Story’
Director:
Jeff Feuerzeig
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” offers a worthwhile thought experiment: What if Laura Albert wasn’t a horrible person? Starting in the late ’90s, Albert, a random middle-aged woman with no hope for fame, fooled the coolest people in the world into thinking she was a teenage male drug addict-turned-cool author. The jig only lasted a handful of years, and it was a fine run. She collected untold famous friends, collaborated with Gus Van Sant on “Elephant” and had a miserable, unpleasant movie Asia Argento movie made of her second tome “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.”

In other words, it would make a great movie — and that’s even before you learn it involved juggling multiple pseudonyms, asking a relative (Savannah Knoop) to file public appearances as the “real” JT LeRoy and Albert herself posing as “Speedie,” her creation’s fake messenger/assistant, for which she adopted loud clothes and a ridiculous British accent. The affair has already been tackled dispassionately in “The Cult of JT LeRoy,” and will likely become a docudrama movie, probably made by James Franco. What “Author” has to offer is Albert herself. Director Jeff Feuerzeig previously made “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” and like that film he lends a sympathetic ear to a troubled soul. Posing her in front of stylized backgrounds, presented her tale as a bouncy, comedic romp, Feuerzeig's "Author" doesn’t pretend to offer the official truth — it just entertains the notion that Albert, as Jean Renoir would say, has her reasons.

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And those reasons aren’t unsympathetic. Ignored by the world, sullen and suicidal, Albert found that the only way she could write was when she pretended to be someone else. Thus, JT LeRoy, the kind of person who, if he were real, would have been the toast of the literary and cool celeb vanguard. And he was: Boasting a past made of vagrancy, prostitution and addiction, LeRoy was a West Virginian who could write powerfully gritty and poetic odes to the past his fame would help him elude. Soon enough, Albert-as-JT was being toasted by Bono, getting voicemails from Courtney Love and being told that Madonna was going to send her some Kabbalah books.

As the center of the madness, Albert isn’t entirely apologetic, and still too amused and gobsmacked, even a decade on, by what she was able to accomplish. She talks about the thrill of being a wallflower whose writing was suddenly being shilled by Winona Ryder. She reminisces about the surreal experience of anonymously attending a reading of her own work. And she gushes about the thrill of finally finding a convoluted way to talk about herself. Does it matter that she was misrepresenting a life she didn’t quite know for fame? Or that what she did predated the unleashed id and exaggerated personas that now floods social media? Of course. But “Author” allows us the chance to ignore all that for a bit and empathize with a broken soul, even if we suspect she’d exploit our good graces in a second.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge