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Review: Judy (2019)

Judy (2019)

Directed by: Rupert Gold

Premise: A biographical story of actress Judy Garland focusing on the latter years of her life. Garland (Renée Zellweger) is a washed up performer struggling with substance abuse while trying to revive her career with a residency at a London hotel.

What Works: Judy’s greatest asset is Renée Zellweger’s performance in the lead role. Zellweger inhabits Judy Garland and gives her life from the inside out. One of the challenges inherent to portraying a familiar public figure is capturing that person’s specific mannerisms while imbuing him or her with unique personality and nuance so that the performance isn’t a caricature. Zellweger accomplishes that and more in Judy. She captures Garland’s look and voice while making her a flesh and blood person. The movie showcases Garland at her best and worst; as portrayed here, Garland was a masterful performer who had a unique capability to connect with the audience but she was handicapped by anxiety and bad judgement. Zellweger conveys both of those qualities and Garland comes across as a tragic and complex figure. Judy also succeeds in its musical sequences. Zellweger performs the songs herself and she replicates Garland’s unique sound as well as her stage presence. One of the best scenes in Judy occurs between Garland and a homosexual couple played by Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira. They are fans of hers and the three share a quiet evening together. It’s a fictionalized moment but it effectively portrays the affection that the audience had for Garland and how she has become a gay icon.
What Doesn’t: Renée Zellweger’s extraordinary performance is trapped in an unremarkable story. The narrative has a lot of spinning plates and the filmmakers are unable to attend to all of them. At the opening of the film Judy Garland performs on stage with her children and she is essentially homeless. Garland is forced to leave her children in the care of her ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) for a job in London but she promises to make her way back to her family. When Garland arrives in the UK the children all but vanish from the story and the narrative becomes a cycle of substance abuse with Garland alternately wowing audiences with her stage show and then squandering their goodwill by getting smashed and making a fool of herself. Anyone who is familiar with Garland is probably aware of this aspect of her life and Judy doesn’t reveal much that’s new. This is a pretty standard show business decadence story. Garland romances a younger American businessman played by Finn Wittrock. There is sufficient romantic chemistry between Zellweger and Wittrock but the story doesn’t give them enough concrete moments to demonstrate their love. The rise and fall of their relationship feels preordained and the love story is just going through the motions.

Bottom Line: Judy has an exceptional performance by Renée Zellweger and she carries the movie. The story is a mostly rote show business tragedy that we’ve seen before. But it’s competently made and at its best the movie captures the ongoing fascination with Judy Garland. 

Episode: #769 (October 6, 2019)