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Old 06-11-2006   #1
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Review: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Until earlier this year when he was outed as a woman in her forties, author JT LeRoy had been hailed as an example of the healing power of autobiographical writing. Born to an emotionally unstable mother who taught him how to be a prostitute, at 21 Leroy had published the book of true life short stories, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.
At the heart of the story is a seven-year-old boy who is taken away from a caring foster home and forced to endure years of abuse at the hands of relatives and their friends. You'll probably find yourself asking, would social workers really remove this boy from a loving home into the care of this mother? If you're expecting a happy ending, there isn't one. The movie ends and the brutality goes on. The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is not the kind of movie to pop into the DVD player on a lazy Saturday night, nor is it recommended for children.
The stories of JT LeRoy were believed to be true when Asia Argento adapted and directed this film in which she stars as the boy's abusive, drug addicted mother. However, the fact that Leroy has been exposed as a hoax doesn't change the disturbing nature of the movie.
The film begins with Jeremiah (Jimmy Bennett) being taken away from the family he loves and returned to his mother Sarah (Asia Argento). Sarah promises her son good times, throws a plate of Spaghetti-O's in front of him, and barks, "If my father had let me, you would have been flushed down some toilet." Clearly things aren't going to go well here.
Sarah is a prostitute, and often turns tricks while Jeremiah is in the same room. Sarah "marries" one of the several men that come in and out of her life (Jeremy Renner). When the two go on a honeymoon to Atlantic City, they lock the boy in the house with instructions not to answer the phone. Later the man returns alone and rapes Jeremiah. Winona Ryder has a cameo as the counselor the young boy sees in the hospital after the assault.
The beatings in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things are endless. Jeremiah is beaten so often that in one scene, believing he's been bad, he offers a belt to one of his mother's male friends so he can be beaten.
Beyond the story, the film was badly shot and the camera seems unsteady, producing very choppy shots. Asia Argento, who also wrote and directed the film, plays Sarah in a hyper-hysterical pitch. She chews scenery with the best of them. Marilyn Manson (sans the makeup), plays one of Sarah's boyfriends, one that Jeremiah is forced to seduce.
Had I seen this film before learning that JT LeRoy was not a real person, I would have wondered how he survived his childhood and lived to write about it. As a longtime film fan, it is rare that I find a film unwatchable. The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is that rare exception. If you do watch the film, expect to be terribly uncomfortable.
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