Asia Argento is not what I would call a good actress, but she’s a prime specimen of train-wreck sexuality: a debauched Eurotrash starlet who oozes punk cred more than she does talent. It’s not too hard to see why she wanted to write, direct, and star in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, an adaptation of JT LeRoy’s 2002 novel. The film tells the story of Jeremiah (played by three different actors), who at age 7 is ripped from his foster home and delivered into the arms of his 23-year-old mother — a selfish, dissolute druggie skank played by Argento with smeared cherry lips, peroxide hair, and a vaguely Italian croak of a voice that all blend to make her resemble Uma Thurman after a six-day bender.
Argento’s entire performance is an act of exhibitionism, and so is the movie, which would have done well to drop that cynical and verbose title and substitute something catchier — like, say, Help! I Wish That My Mom Were Courtney Love! On the road, Argento’s Sarah plies her kid with pills and beer, eats with him out of Dumpsters, and looks grateful when one of her revolving-door lovers, a cowboy sadist, whips him with a belt. Did I mention that Sarah earns drug money as a stripper and prostitute? At one point, Jeremiah is sent to live with his grandparents, who are mean-eyed Christian fanatics led by Peter Fonda, who all but turns himself into Peter Cushing. Yet Argento piles on each calamity as if it were a fresh selling point; it’s a rare film that serves up this much trauma with this much smug nonchalance. Just a few months ago, JT LeRoy was unmasked as a fake — a fictional alter ego. But the story of how that fakery was achieved is barely relevant to a movie that has trouble identifying the truth of a single emotion.