The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

Showing at Varsity, Fri., April 7–Thurs., April 13. Rated R. 97 minutes.

Asia Argento's bloated adaptation of JT LeRoy's novel is based on a fraudulent "semiautobiographical" novel by a West Virginia male prostitute who never existed outside the racy imagination of a hustler of a different stripe—a Brooklyn-born woman (Laura Albert) whose true genius turns out to have been for networking, publicity, and bald-faced lying to gullible writers, publishers agog for the next best seller, and book reviewers all the way up the scale to The New York Times. (To orchestrate the scam, Albert was abetted by her former husband and his half sister, who posed as LeRoy for interviews).

Like the book, the movie is a gratuitously arty piece of child pornography carelessly knocked off from the grunge school of Harmony Korine, Larry Clark, and Vincent Gallo. There's barely a story: An angelic-looking lad named Jeremiah (played at various vulnerable ages by Jimmy Bennett and twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is wrestled away from loving foster parents by his mother (Argento, in a platinum shag and magenta lips blatantly modeled on Seattle Weekly cover girl Courtney Love), a truck-stop hooker and drug addict who—made monstrous by tight close-ups, show-offy camera angles, and nonstop overacting—slaps him around, dopes him, seduces him, cross-dresses him, and exposes him to her beatings, whippings, and rape from a succession of lovers and johns. By way of variety, Jeremiah is periodically snatched by his sadistic fundamentalist Christian grandparents (Peter Fonda and Ornella Muti). I tremble to think what the three boys who play Jeremiah thought they were doing in the movie.

Argento rubs our faces endlessly and pointlessly in sordid detail and then, almost as an afterthought, solicits our sympathy for both oppressors and oppressed, glibly implying that they're all simultaneously tragic victims of society and plucky survivors. Deceitful is a degraded and degrading film, of interest only because it's symptomatic of so much that's wrong with the drearily repetitive tabloid mentality that has infected not just the news media, but the whole culture industry: the strange mix of gullibility and cynicism that governs our appetite for scandal; the eager identification with victims and (covertly) their aggressors; the willingness to rush anything into print or image that will cater to public prurience.

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