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'J.T. LeRoy' captures fascinating true story of literary deceit

Matt Shiverdecker Special to the American-Statesman
Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart star in "J.T. LeRoy." [Contributed by Universal]

Here is an interesting new release available now from cable and digital providers as well as a title that has recently become available for streaming.

Video on Demand

"J.T. LeRoy": In his follow-up to "King Cobra," Justin Kelly tackles more bizarre "based on a true story" events. This time it's one of the biggest literary hoaxes in recent memory — the story of how best-selling writer J.T. LeRoy utilized a fake public persona for publicity purposes. It was actually Laura Albert (Laura Dern) who had been writing under the LeRoy pseudonym, using an author photo of a young androgynous man. It was easy to pull off a character's voice to do telephone press interviews, but after meeting her boyfriend's sister Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart), Laura becomes convinced that they could be a human stand-in for her creation. It begins with a simple photo shoot and eventually finds Savannah embodying LeRoy for everything from press conferences to movie set visits. The real story of actress Asia Argento buying the rights to LeRoy's novel "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" is oddly fictionalized here, with Diane Kruger ("In the Fade") portraying a character based on her instead. Both Dern and Stewart are terrific and do a lot of heavy lifting for a script that fumbles (itself based on Knoop's own memoir). One of the most pleasant surprises of the film is a sharp and all-too-short turn from Courtney Love as a Hollywood producer. If you are interested in learning more about this strange tale, also check out Amazon's documentary "Author: The J.T. LeRoy Story." (Cable and digital VOD)

Also on streaming services

"Knock Down the House": Record numbers of women and people of color ran for office in the 2018 primaries. Director Rachel Lears focused on four women and their campaigns and hit the jackpot when one of those subjects (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) scored an unexpected victory by winning her race against a strong Democratic incumbent in the Bronx. The film works so well because it drills down into the personal reasons each candidate has for running. For Amy Vilela, it was the broken health care system. Cori Bush was drawn to service after the police shooting of Michael Brown in her neighborhood. Paula Jean Swearengin was watching all of her friends and neighbors get cancer in a coal-mining town. Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender working as many shifts as possible while struggling with family finances. All of them hit the pavement with little experience or expectations and fought hard to change the system. The turnaround on this movie allows us to experience the power of these elections and consider how ordinary people can shake things up in Washington. (Netflix, available in 4K Ultra HD)