Judy Garland, best known to most as The Wizard of Oz’s ruby slipper clad Dorothy, is the subject of the latest music biopic to come out of Hollywood, entitled simply Judy. Can we really call it a biopic, though, when it seems to cover so little of her life?
The film opens on young Judy (Darci Shaw) during her time starring as Dorothy. Amidst bright red poppies and the famous yellow brick road, sixteen-year-old Judy is inappropriately touched, threatened and chastized for her reluctance to want to work eighteen-hour days by the film’s intimidating producer and the co-founder of MGM, Louis B Mayer.
Cut to Judy in her later years. She’s now a financially-struggling divorcee dragging her two youngest children around with her for late-night performances. They call hotels home and are all too aware of their mother’s reliance on pills to get through the day.
Judy’s popularity in America has all but dried-up and her ex-husband wants to seek custody of the kids. So when she’s given the opportunity to do a tour in London and earn the kind of money she needs to return to her family and provide a stable home, she has little choice.
Judy thrives on the adoration of the audience, but she’s in no state to be touring.
The film flashes back repeatedly to all the punishing situations that pathed the not-so-yellow brick road that led her to wind up here.
As a singer and actress. Judy was overworked, starved and constantly had pills pushed on her so she could continue to work harder and eat less.
Despite, or maybe because of, being assaulted and criticized by the male higher-ups she still craves the affection of the men in her life and it looks as though she may have finally found an unrelenting supporter and loving partner in the much younger Mickey (Finn Wittrock).
Judy is one woman’s story, but you also get the sense that it’s the story of countless other Hollywood actresses and starlets who’ve come both before and after her.
The film omits whole decades where Judy experienced highs like winning Grammys, Tonys and was Oscar-nominated. Not to mention getting married and starting a family. Instead it focuses on arguably the most difficult years of Judy’s life, which results in somewhat of a flat story and a very bleak view of Hollywood’s treatment of its stars. Regardless, if you don’t know beforehand how this true story ends then the film’s emotionally-charged ending will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Renee Zellweger’s performance as the grown Judy Garland, though, completely elevates the film. She’s not unrecognisable but the way she contorts her face and holds herself while both speaking and singing is something to behold.
Zellweger manages to capture that special something about Judy that made audiences flock to her, but she also presents the more difficult side of Judy that arose when she was feeling insecure and scared.
Zellweger’s performance outshines the story by serving up such a rich character. She conveys a full range of emotions, offering up a wistfulness and nostalgia for a period that the plot neglected to depict.
Supporting her is Jessie Buckley as a tour manager who strikes just the right chord between career-driven and compassionate and Rufus Sewell as her hard ex-husband Sidney Luft.
Wittrock is convincing as the Judy fan that she falls in love with, however, the script does little to really articulate how their relationship bloomed.
In relation to other similar films, Judy is like Stan and Ollie minus the humour, or Bohemian Rhapsody if you walked in halfway through.
Judy only proffers its audience a limited picture of the turbulent life of Judy Garland. The film had the potential to dive more deeply into glamour, romance and scandal but it chooses instead to stick to a simpler story. Thankfully it’s star, Zellweger, makes up in part for what’s not shown with a magnetic performance that is captivating enough to stand alone.
SEE IT if…
You love the music of Judy Garland
You appreciate transformative acting performances
SKIP IT if…
You’re expecting a Rocketman style biopic
You don’t like dramas
It gets 3 stars out of 5.
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