Current Issue #488

Film Review: Judy

Renée Zellweger is startlingly good as the late Judy Garland in director Rupert Goold’s melancholy biopic – so good, in fact, that she shows up some of the film’s shortcomings.

Drawn and expanded from Peter Quilter’s play End Of The Rainbow by screenwriter Tom Edge and the theatre-intensive Goold, this is stronger than TV’s Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows back in 2001 (which featured Judy Davis), and pretty much guarantees Zellweger at least an Oscar nomination.

We open with the young Judy (Darci Shaw), a.k.a. Francis Ethel Gumm, on the half-built ‘Yellow Brick Road’ set from The Wizard Of Oz and being psychologically manipulated in classic style by studio head Louis B. Mayer (a formidable Richard Cordery), who assures her, for example, that “far prettier girls” are up for the role of Dorothy, and if she loses out she will be condemned to “be a housewife”. We then cut to Judy in her forties with two small children and, humiliated by a hotel mix-up after putting on a show, forced to return to her ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), who’s doing everything in his power to take the kids away from her.

And we can see why: Judy is an alcoholic, a chronic pill-popper, emotionally scrambled and hopelessly unreliable. And Zellweger makes sure we understand just what it was like dealing with her, and demonstrates that Judy was difficult and infuriating and could barely be trusted with anything or anyone.

Judy attends a party at the house of her eldest daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux) and flirts with a hunky fan named Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who soon grows close and starts to use her fading star power behind her back (as so many men did). She realises that pretty much her only option financially is to travel to England alone and put on a series of nightclub shows, and she does just that, as we keep cutting back to the young Judy going on a contrived date with Mickey Rooney, being controlled and punished every time she wants to eat or have fun, and more, although we never see her on the actual finished set of Oz because the budget or legalities wouldn’t allow it.

Zellweger is heartbreaking throughout without really pushing it, and perfectly mimics Judy’s forced smile, always teary eyes and addled perspective, while also actually singing The Trolley Song (onstage with showgirls), Get Happy (ironically to a sad devotee) and, at the very end (of course), her most famous tune. Now, what was it called again?

So will Renée be up for another Oscar? Let’s think about it… is she American? Check. Is it a well-received, popular movie, even if it is actually English? Check. Was Judy Garland a real person? Check. And did Renée transform for the role, and make herself look frail, sick and dramatically thin? Check. Just give her the damn thing!

Judy (M) is in cinemas now

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