Heartfelt Deceit

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At first, it seemed like horrible timing to release The Heart is Deceitful Above All Thingsthat is if you believe honesty and merit trumps spin and the marketing machine.

JT Leroy, the author of the book from which the film was adapted by Asia Argento, has been exposed as a middle-aged mom and musician named Laura Albert, not the twentysomething, male, HIV-positive former street hustler from West Virginia who supposedly penned the stories. The book was an ostensibly autobiographical series of tales detailing a troubled childhood of abuse, neglect and depravity. These days JT Leroy comes bracketed in quotes and no one is quite sure what level of truth is embedded in the "fiction."

The film, which Argento also directed and stars in as Leroy's wigged-out mom, Sarah, goes a long way in detailing those moments with all their pathetic cruelty intact. The seductive nature of the lurid details of the Leroy books originally attracted a hip list of acolytes with established careers and street cred. So, although the beloved based on a true story addendum won't help sell the film, Argento's loyal retelling doesn't suffer anything except a dubious source.

The losers and abusers are brought to life by actors who approached Argento for the opportunity to be involved in Leroy's story. A Who's Who of edgy indie film appears: Winona Ryder, Marilyn Manson, Michael Pitt and even Peter Fonda.

Viewers may be hard pressed to separate the public revelation from the storytelling, but once it's blocked out long enough to halt comparisons and criticisms, there are some profound moments amidst the metafiction.

The bizarrely intense relationship between son and mother illuminates the wounds inherent in family relationshipschildren's amazing resilience to adapt to any situation. Macabre, animated red crows pecking at the young Jeremiah (fantastic child actor Jimmy Bennett) embody a child's imagination twisted by pain and fear. When the older Jeremiah (played in turns by the twins Cole & Dylan Sprouse) begins to enact a violent story with two pieces of coal (another bit where Argento uses animation), the director finally finds a way to reconcile disparate parts to a greater whole. Unfortunately, that sense of coherence leave the screen way too soonjust as Jeremiah is ripped away from every new locale before figuring out the rules of the game he's been forced to play. I left feeling manipulated and depressed without any real payoff: half a catharsis, as it were. I remembered that same feeling reading the book.

Meanwhile, Variety has reported that the Weinsteins and producer Tom Lassally are going to bring a biopic of JT Leroy to theaters based on the New York Times articles that exposed the deception. The real JT's story may be more engrossing than the one played out in fiction. Guess it doesn't matter how deceitful things get, if there's a story to be told, someone will find a way to make it. Even if it's a fake.

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