Renée Zellweger leads the cast of Judy Garland biopic Judy, and here’s our review.
Talent and tragedy dominated Judy Garland’s life, and Judy features both in abundance. Based on Peter Quilter’s play, Judy is set during Garland’s final months. Financial troubles plague the showbiz legend, and she’s required to work incessantly to keep her and her children afloat. A fragile and exhausted Judy (Zellweger) comes to London where, due to her dependence on alcohol and pills, she embarks on a tumultuous residency at The Talk of the Town. Flashbacks show a young Garland – played brilliantly by Darci Shaw – at MGM being mistreated by those around her. Much is known of Garland’s personal afflictions and the struggles she faced, and Judy depicts the uncomfortable truth that these were a result of her being exploited from such a young age.
Zellweger is the standout, giving a gargantuan performance that positions her as a strong contender for next year’s Oscars. Dressed in gorgeous pantsuits and dresses, she’s wonderfully restrained at times, whilst dazzlingly grandiose at others, successfully capturing Garland’s complexities. Physically restless and exhausted off-stage, but joyous and vibrant on-stage, she encapsulates Garland’s indomitable spirit. At moments, she truly transforms. It’s no secret she can sing, but Zellweger’s vocals are particularly impressive here. There’s enough of Garland’s voice and mannerisms to make her convincing, but not so much that it feels like an impersonation. Her voice is far from identical, but her delivery conveys the emotional intensity that Garland so beautifully possessed and made her so remarkable.
Rupert Goold’s direction is simplistic, and the film unsuccessfully tries to demonstrate Garland’s importance within the gay community through two men who meet and befriend her. Their characterisation feels ill judged and particularly clumsy, with the pair falling into stereotypical and caricature-like territory, being used for comic effect a bit too much. Though well intentioned, these scenes feel forced and heavy handed. Dramatic licence is taken, and fervent fans may take issue with the historical inaccuracies, but Judy never strives to be a documentary. Understandably, Garland’s fans are fiercely protective, most likely because she faced such adversity. So it’s reassuring that Judy does not laugh at its subject, instead treating Garland with the respect she deserves. Her talent and ability to connect with audiences prevails, even if the film does end on an overly schmaltzy, cringeworthy, note.
Nevertheless, a complex and committed performance from Zellweger ensures Judy is an entertaining, even if at times uncomfortable, watch, providing a respectful take of one of the 20th century’s most revered entertainers.
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