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article imageReview: TIFF 2018: ‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy’ is who they want him to be Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 13, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy’ is the compelling true story of two different women portraying one young man in an effort to connect that instead becomes the root of their alienation.
Freud talked a lot about how people develop their personalities, what they consist of, and how they’re presented to the outside world. Many believe we are a sum of our experiences, while others think we can choose what people see. Identity is an essential part of the human existence, though its truth can often be debated — particularly whether one person can claim to have more than one identity. In Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, this is taken even further as two women begin to share a third identity.
Savannah (Kristen Stewart) just made the move from her childhood home to her brother’s (Jim Sturgess) old apartment in the city. He’s dating Laura (Laura Dern), an eccentric older woman, who is harbouring a secret: she’s written a New York Times bestseller under the guise of a tortured young man named J.T. LeRoy. Presented as a piece of non-fiction, Laura has projected this persona over the phone for months but declined all in-person requests. However, when this short-haired nymph enters her view, Laura sees the personification of J.T. and asks Savannah to pose for a photo to accompany an article about her nom de plume… then a photoshoot, followed by book reading and press conference in Paris. Suddenly, the snowball is gaining speed and girth, and people are getting steamrolled by their charade.
Post-Twilight, the leading couple have individually taken on challenging projects and proven they could do more than just sparkle and swoon. After Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, people couldn’t wait to see Stewart’s next outing — and she couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate role. Savannah preserves a “no curves” figure, binding her breasts and wearing loose, layered outfits. She doesn’t prescribe to a label, dates men and women, and is a perfect skin for the androgynous and introverted J.T. Unfortunately, beneath the exterior shell is still Savannah who can’t prevent her own feelings from getting rolled into J.T.’s affairs. Soon, there’s a tug-of-war between her and Laura regarding the ownership of the persona as each claims a different part of him.
There’s a fine line between having an additional public persona and being a fraud, and most people tend to side with their feelings of being deceived before an explanation can be provided. Laura is very conflicted about their scheme: she’s excited to witness the admiration for her work in person as she poses as J.T.’s obnoxious, British publicist, Speedy, but becomes upset as she’s pushed to the sidelines and Savannah’s personification of the writer is dragged less and less forcibly into the spotlight. However, Laura never wonders if what they’re doing is right because she’s convinced it’s fine since J.T. is her alter ego and convinces Savannah of the same.
Dern and Stewart have an excellent on-screen chemistry, whether they are mapping J.T.’s responses together or fighting about which of their representations is the true J.T. Dern’s vocal portrayal of her creation is generally delivered behind closed doors and comes off as reluctantly passionate, exemplifying the mistrust and need for obscurity that oozes from the book. Hiding behind blond wigs and big sunglasses, Stewart gradually learns to lose herself in this fragile survivor who connects with people in a way Savannah can’t; particularly an admiring French actress (Diane Kruger) who clings to the young writer as if he has life’s answers. But as time goes on, Laura and Savannah are both missing the other half of this stirring being and it’s all on the brink of falling apart.
Laura speaks a lot about J.T.’s existence sans body, which ignites this stimulating exploration of identity and what constitutes a real person versus a figment of one’s imagination.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy had its world premiere in the Gala Presentations category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Director: Justin Kelly
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern and Diane Kruger
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