Authors and their muses are the subjects of this week’s binge-watch.
J.T. Leroy (2018)
J.T. Leroy trailer
Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy was a manufactured commodity, the wispy offspring of a prostitute mother that writer Laura Albert (Laura Dern) bamboozled the world into believing was real. Albert gave birth to JT by granting sotto voce phone interviews under the guise of her literary persona. Once her creation perched atop the best sellers list, the growing number of requests for personal appearances convinced Albert the time was right to invite her boyfriend’s sister Savannah (Kristen Stewart) to act the part of reclusive scribe. I was willing to go with Sav and Laura, but their alter-egos were not to be believed. Seeing Stewart buried beneath oversize Iris Apfel shades, a Zorro fedora, and Walgreens wig makes it hard to accept that even the most ardent fan couldn’t see through JT’s bid at forced androgyny. And as JT’s manager “Speedie,” obnoxious Albert chose to hide behind a strained cockney impersonation, pitched just slightly higher than Bert’s in Mary Poppins. Sav cops to a fear of not having enough going on in her personal life to successfully pull off the impersonation; perhaps that accounts for all the time Stewart spends gazing at her shoes to avoid making eye contact. The actual story unfolded within the last 20 years; surely modern media people weren’t dopey enough to buy into this marketing masquerade? One Google search later proved me wrong. As conceived by writer-director Justin Kelly, Dern and Stewart deliver spot-on impersonations of otherwise resistible characters.
Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) envisioned a new way of telling a story: a “nonfiction novel” that sought to elevate a pair of nomadic killers to the realm of humanity. But without an acquittal or a hanging, his story had no ending. Capote follows the author’s quest to put an “Amen” on In Cold Blood. Tagging future To Kill a Mockingbird author Nelle Harper Lee (the indispensable Catherine Keener) as his research assistant/bodyguard, the two embark on a five-year journey that commences in a decidedly Oz-less Kansas. For this, his second film, Bennett Miller choose for his subject another self-absorbed, real-life raconteur. (Remember Timothy ‘Speed’ Levitch, the annoyingly endearing Gray Line tour guide who commandeered The Cruise?) Shifting with the greatest of ease from urban documentary to period biography, Miller shows an assured sense of space and pace. His serene landscapes, both concrete and wooded, quietly set a stage for the flamboyant Capote to overpower.
The Dying Gaul (2005)
The Dying Gaul trailer
Craig Lucas’ Longtime Companion was the first play to attach a human face to the AIDS epidemic. Fifteen years after Campbell Scott starred in the film version, which Lucas adapted, the actor and writer/first-time director reunited for this nasty Hollywood-on-Hollywood horror comedy. “To get people into the movie theaters, they have to think it’s going to be fun,” says closeted studio head Jeffrey (Scott) before cautioning newbie gay screenwriter Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) to soften his AIDS-themed script for middle class audiences. Topping the advice with undying gaul, Jeffrey suggests that the lead character change from a gay man with AIDS to a heterosexual woman with AIDS. Patricia Clarkson co-stars as Scott’s wife — and the F in the inevitable MMF menage. Lucas has constructed a tight, irony-laced post-modern film noir. (Sprinkler systems that go bump in the night replace the rain-soaked pavement of forties noir.) He brilliantly juxtaposes sun-bleached shores with dark, cramped work spaces. The ending may be a bit harsh, but up until then, The Dying Gaul delivers tension, superb acting and more than a few mean-spirited chuckles.