Judy (2019)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

, 2019, , , Screenplay by , based on the play End of the Rainbow by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by

Judy Garland was the top box office draw at MGM in the forties, later gave some of the most exciting concerts in the fifties, but by the end of her short life finds herself having failed to escape both the financial woes that have dogged most of her post-studio life and the substance abuse that she relies on to help her get through her grueling work schedule.  She needs to make money to gain the upper hand in her custody battle with ex-husband Sid Luft (played here with a growling attempt at an American accent by ) over their children Joey and Lorna, and so accepts a gig to perform a series of shows at Talk Of The Town in London and, unsurprisingly, the tickets sell quickly (the film is playing with time regarding this subplot, as by 1969 Joey and Lorna were 14 and 16 and their custody had long since been resolved; Judy’s doing the gig because of financial need, however, is where the story finds its strongest accuracy). Physically unwell and emotionally even lower, Garland has trouble putting herself together before each show and, for the first time in her formidable career, is also challenged on stage, no longer sounding as strong as she did a decade earlier. The distraction of a strange and inexplicable romance with a younger man ( as her eventual fifth husband Mickey Deans) helps boost her spirits, but haunting memories of her early days being forced to starve herself into a gingham dress under the cruel supervision of MGM head Louis B. Mayer dog her at night. This adaptation of Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow focuses on the legendary singer’s final days and turns a play that relied more on fantasy elements into a straightforward biopic that ends up feeling like a retread of similar films. She spends an evening with the common folk having dinner in the flat of two gay fans (reminiscent of Queen Victoria setting the table in Mrs. Brown), her relationship issues bring about a loneliness that is in direct opposition to her fame (La Vie En Rose) and she flashes bright in performance while suffering physical anguish in private (Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool). As unremarkable as the plotting is, it doesn’t feel too tired thanks to a sincere feeling of sympathy and affection for the subject, it’s presented as a genuine tragedy that this woman’s desire to spread joy with her singing was defeated by her personal demons, not as an opportunity to exploit her downfall for dramatic kicks, and the conclusion is all the more touching for it. In the role of Garland, Renee Zellweger boldly does her own singing and modifies her physicality and speech patterns (not to mention her nose), never fully convincing as the star and more an effective conduit for the emotions that the film provokes.  Zellweger could never deepen her voice enough to have that whiskey-soaked hum that Garland had by her late forties, but the actual problem with her breathy, higher register is less an issue with accuracy and more that it hampers the film’s attempt to convey the sense of physical diminishment that made Judy simultaneously admirable and tragic. Much more baffling is that Zellweger’s lip-synching (to her own voice) is not convincing in the majority of performance scenes, but the final number, when she delivers the signature song “Over The Rainbow”, hits the spot beautifully.  as the young Garland is mesmerizing for her vulnerability, pulling off the handful of scenes depicting her past that are perfectly calibrated to give as much background for her troubles as we need, and reveal the cruelty of life as a child actor before laws were created to protect them; for more information and a closer approximation of her physical and emotional presence, however, watch Judy Davis in the excellent Emmy-winning television film Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows.

Academy Award:  Best Actress (Renee Zellweger)
Nomination:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Golden Globe Award:  Best Actress-Drama (Renee Zellweger)

Screen Actors Guild Award:  Best Female Actor (Renee Zellweger)

Toronto International Film Festival:  2019

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