Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy review: Laura Dern commands the screen in this dramatic big-screen adaptation of the memoir by Savannah Koop. Kristen Stewart plays the role of Savannah, sister-in-law to Dern’s character who assumes the physical body of the JT LeRoy of the title, a literary pseudonym who has taken the book scene by storm.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy review
Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy review [TIFF]

JT Leroy is a New York Times best-selling author following the publication of his book, ‘Sarah’. He is followed by millions of people around the world, all of whom cling to his every word, though a mystery surrounds his existence, and the 19-year-old Texas native has never been seen in public. That’s because Jeremiah Terminator Leroy does not exist – he’s purely an avatar for 50-year-old scribe and sometime phone sex operator Laura Albert.

Dern is Albert in a sensational, strong performance. Laura’s book has attracted lots of attention, and now media outlets are beginning to request interviews in person, along with accompanying photo shoots and just about everything else that comes with the media circus. Savanna’s arrival in San Francisco at the beginning on the movie is timed to perfection. She arrives at her brother in law Geoff’s apartment where Albert succeeds in asking Savannah to post for a Polaroid picture as LeRoy so a media outlet can use it in an upcoming interview. Things escalate from there, and with cash and trips abroad dangled in front of her, Savannah soon finds herself embodying JT LeRoy constantly. As film rights are offered for the story of his life ‘ optioned by Diane Kruger’s French film star Eva, Savannah spends the next six years playing the role of LeRoy, an adventure which takes her to from Hollywood to Cannes, the real author in Laura coming along for the ride too as LeRoy’s wacky British manager Speedy.

The story of LeRoy has come to the screen before, in the brilliant Dogwoof documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, a brilliantly constructed feature that goes beyond what’s covered here. If you know that documentary, you’ll be surprised at how much is omitted from Justin Kelly’s film. Here, he very much concentrates on the years that Savannah assumes the role of LeRoy – and not the fallout that comes of it. That’s fine – after all, the movie is based on the memoir by Savannah, so the story is very much from her point of view.

Related: Author: The JT LeRoy Story review

Stewart naturally excels in the role of Savannah, a near career best for the young actor. Jim Sturgess too is solid as her brother Geoffrey in the film, a close observer of the whole circus that is playing out in front him.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy isn’t going set the world on fire, but there’s enough going on here to engross as it’s a truly remarkable story – one that if it were not true, would be completely unbelievable. Some of the later scenes – particularly the stuff in Cannes – which feature ads for movies that haven’t even hit cinemas yet (this is set in 2004) – which took may out the film briefly – I could have done without, but for the large part Kelly’s film is involving, full of some premium acting turns, and deserves a visit. For the full story, though, hit up the feature documentary afterwards as these two make a superb double-bill.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy review by Paul Heath, September 2018.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy was reviewed at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Click here for all of our coverage.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy