Adapted from Peter Guilter’s Tony-nominated play “End of the Rainbow,” “Judy” documents the last chapter in the life of legendary entertainer Judy Garland. Falling on financial hardships, Garland accepts a 5-week stint at a London nightclub where she is back in the spotlight and coming to terms with her inner strife. The biopic is directed by Rupert Goold, an established stage director.
In the past year, we have seen films like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” succeeding at the box office, it seems musical biopics are some of the hottest films in Hollywood.
Renée Zellweger is electrifying as Garland – her mannerisms and speech patterns ooze with confidence on and off stage. Garland yearns for the applause and hasn’t felt the excitement of a packed house in years. When she isn’t giving surface-level compliments or a musical number, Zellweger’s lips are tightly pursed. With her eyes wide and chin held high, she delivers one-liners as if she was leading “Meet Me in St. Louis” or “A Star is Born.”
Highlights of the movie include the liberal use of striking wide shots, which stay stationary as Zellweger advances toward the camera. The audience witnesses Garland exploring her space and is treated to a true stage presence. The magnificent musical performances, though small in quantity, show what kind of live performer Garland was to those of us unfortunate enough to miss her beautiful, soul-filled songs. A handful of flashbacks to her teenage years provide another layer to Garland’s demanding, controlled life.
The film is as good as a biopic can be – even the most tender telling of the most celebrated figures tend to be formulaic. Even further, Garland is adored so much by audiences and filmmakers alike, the accuracy of her last months depicted in “Judy” is sacrificed for a feel-good story that understates the depths to which her deprivation sank. Her suffering is a bit too tinseled, as humiliation and insomnia last only until the next day when she floats around her surroundings. It seems Goold didn’t want Garland’s dazzling persona to be wholly diminished.
Although Zellweger delivers a powerful central performance, the environment around her is underused. Richard Cordery is brilliant as the bullyish MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, but that’s about as far as impressive supporting roles go.
“Judy” is an uplifting depiction of a cultural icon who, throughout her almost 50-year career, never could catch a break. Zellweger’s shaky, courageous performance has earned the attention of awards season voters, and she deserves it fully. Emulating the enigma that was Judy Garland is no easy task, but Zellweger makes it easy for audiences to witness the sacrifices Garland made for her legendary career.