The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004? 2006?) from Tuna

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is the chronicle of a traumatically abused child, based on a supposedly autobiographical set of short stories written by "J. T. LeRoy." The film was first seen at film festivals in 2004, beginning at Cannes in May. It was still being screened on the festival circuit a year and a half later, although it was seen in a few commercial theaters in Europe. Nobody believed in it strongly enough to attempt a North American commercial release. After two years in distribution limbo, it finally appeared on three U.S. screens in March of 2006, and the results from that limited trial showed that the distributors were wise to be reluctant about this unremittingly downbeat film.

"Highlights" include the boy's mother poisoning him, one of his "daddies" sodomizing him to the point that he needed stitches to repair his rectum, and another "daddy" beating him to with a belt because he wet the bed. Probably the best scene of all was one with his grandfather, played by Peter Fonda as a religious zealot whose morning regime includes scrubbing the boy's genitals with a stiff bristle brush.

The people who responded to this story were especially moved by the fact that the boy was taken from loving foster parents and returned to his white trash birth mother, thus subjecting him to an abusive environment, and making his autobiographical revelations all the more heartbreaking. Asia Argento wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred as the boy's birth mother, delivering a believable performance - and a brave one. Every time she was on the screen, I had an urge to take a shower.

After the film was completed, it came out that J. T. LeRoy was neither a young writing prodigy nor a horribly abused son of a junkie hooker, but was in fact a completely fictional character created by a 40ish female author. The author's pseudo-sister-in-law occasionally put on a wig and oversized glasses to play the J. T. LeRoy character in public. 

Some people comment that knowing the books were a fake doesn't make the film any worse.

I would agree with that statement.

I don't see how the film could possibly be any worse.

 

DVD INFO

  • Commentary by director Asia Argento and producer Chris Hanley
  • "JT Under Cover" featurette
  • New York Film Premiere and Party featurette

 

NUDITY REPORT

Asia Argento shows her breasts in a strip act. (She is also seen completely naked while running in a street far from the camera.)

Scoop's notes:

The general theory is that every comic premise can be connected in several ways to a tragic or dramatic premise. The two most common ways to forge comedy from drama are to flip it around completely, or to accept tragedy completely as a comic premise.

As a good example of the flip-around approach, take the George Segal screen persona and compare it to Bogart. Think of Bogart in his classic roles as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He's supremely confident, cock-sure, and competent. He possesses complete honesty and integrity, and is chivalrous to a fault. He's a man you can trust with your daughter or your life savings. The essential Segal character takes the character and flips him. He's totally untrustworthy and constantly conniving, although he's such a bumbler that his schemes rarely pay off. You would never trust him with either your money or your daughter, but even if you did, he'd probably screw up his plans to rip you off, and he'd end up in such a jam that your daughter would have to save him. If there was a rattler in your daughter's bedroom, Segal would be hiding behind the curtain while your daughter shot the snake. Segal and Bogart could not play each other's parts.

As an example of the acceptance approach, imagine the tragedy of JT Leroy's alleged life, then think of the classic joke called The Aristocrats. They are actually one and the same. The Aristocrats involves a performing family in which the children have the most unimaginable horrors inflicted on them. The boy is sodomized by his father and has to eat his mother's diarrhea, for example, all so that the comic can deliver the punchline when asked "What do you call your act?" ... "The Aristocrats." Now imagine for a moment that The Aristocrats, as imagined by Gilbert Gottfried or Bob Sagat, is a true story. Picture the life of the son. It's no longer funny, is it? It is, in essence, the (imaginary) life of JT Leroy. "Leroy" attempts to do exactly the same thing that Bob Sagat does - to invent the most monstrous and exaggerated incidents possible - but to do them in the interest of tragedy, not comedy.

I'm not sure I buy into the theory that the merit of the story, or its emotional impact, exists completely independent of the author's identity or credibility. It is one thing to be shocked and moved when a teenager tells you about horrible things that happened to him when he was ripped from his loving foster parents by an insensitive bureaucracy which dumped him into the slimy bosom of his birth mom, a junkie and a truck-stop hooker. The fact that those things really happened adds a poignant "grabber" to the story. That emotional involvement is reduced to nothing when we realize that the entire film actually consists of fantasies constructed by a 40ish mom who learned to fabricate just such sensational tales when she worked a phone sex line for a living. There was no callous government official sending JT to live with an obviously degenerate mom. There were no truck stops. There was no JT. It was all just another phone sex story concocted for the titillation of the callers.

Note, by the way, that the British critics gave the film a savage thrashing (an average of one star) even when they thought the story was true. The film played in the UK in July of 2005. The Guardian's review is dated July 15th; The Observer's July 17th. The New York Magazine exposť, which revealed that Laura Albert had written the Leroy novels, did not appear until October 15th of that year. It was not until the following January that The New York Times unmasked Savannah Knoop, who had pretended to be Leroy in public.

Other links:

  • Here's a long analysis of the JT Leroy phenomenon in New York Magazine
  • Page Six asked, sensibly enough, why so many celebrities poisoned their own credibility to claim friendships with the fictional JT Leroy. Winona Ryder even offered the press a long, semi-literary campfire tale about the emotionally intense time she had passed with the non-existent lad!

"And he was crying throughout it (La Boheme). And I started crying for my own reasons, watching this beautiful kid so affected, someone his age grasping it. We went to this diner afterward and talked. I wanted to take care of him, have him move in, but he said he was heading back south. I fell in love with him. And I've been in love with him ever since."

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: one star. Telegraph 4/10, Independent 2/10, Guardian 2/10, Times 4/10, Express 2/10, Mirror 2/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

 

Based on this description, this film is a D. I found it competently made, but completely repulsive from opening title sequence to final credits.

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