The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

While the brouhaha over the truth of James Frey's 2004 best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces grabbed nationwide front-page headlines two years after the fact, a far more elaborate — and interesting — literary hoax went relatively ignored. In January 2006 the New York Times confirmed nagging suspicions about celebrated young writer J. T. Leroy:...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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While the brouhaha over the truth of James Frey's 2004 best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces grabbed nationwide front-page headlines two years after the fact, a far more elaborate — and interesting — literary hoax went relatively ignored. In January 2006 the New York Times confirmed nagging suspicions about celebrated young writer J. T. Leroy: Not only was he not the author of the two novels and numerous short stories attributed to him, but Leroy didn't even exist. Both his writings and the outrageous details of his shocking life, including a childhood spent as a cross-dressing child prostitute pimped out by an abusive mentally ill mother, were actually the invention of a middle-aged woman named Laura Albert. Nevertheless, by the time of the unmasking, a young, blonde-wigged creature posing as J. T. Leroy and often accompanied by Albert had laid claim to a number of celebrity friends, including European-actress-turned-filmmaker Asia Argento, who was determined to turn Leroy's harrowing, quasi-autobiographical short-story cycle The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things into her second feature. The extent to which the revelation will alter the reception of Leroy/Albert's powerful, occasionally brilliant writing remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Argento's curiously unadventurous adaptation, in the can long before the revelation was made public and falsely marketed as the story "behind the greatest hoax of our time," would be no better if Leroy's story were true. Argento herself, looking and acting a lot like Courtney Love on a really bad day, took on the role of Sarah, the estranged and seriously damaged daughter of stern, well-to-do Pentecostal parents (Peter Fonda, Ornella Muti). Seven years after the 15-year-old Sarah put her infant in foster care, she suddenly surfaces to tear Jeremiah (played first by Jimmy Bennett, then Cole and Dylan Sprouse) away from his loving guardians and drag him into a maelstrom of sex, drugs and mental illness. Living out of a series of cheap apartments, meth labs, 18-wheelers and cars, Sarah and Jeremiah chart a nightmarish course across the dark heart of bland America, often in the company of strange "new daddies" (including Kip Pardue, Jeremy Sisto and Marilyn Manson) who beat, rape and otherwise abuse Jeremiah while Sarah is out turning tricks. Given Argento's willingness to attempt the controversial book at all, she pulls a surprising number of punches. What at first appears to go too far in reality doesn't go far enough: Argento doesn't even broach the subject of child prostitution. Her understandable reluctance to regale viewers with the disturbing sight of a tarted-up 10-year-old seducing Marilyn Manson is solved with a clumsy, confusing conceit, and her decision not to follow Jeremiah to where the book leaves him — alone and hustling on the streets of San Francisco — produces a truncated and unsatisfying ending.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: While the brouhaha over the truth of James Frey's 2004 best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces grabbed nationwide front-page headlines two years after the fact, a far more elaborate — and interesting — literary hoax went relatively ignored. In January… (more)

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