Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland at Rainbow’s End
I saw the Judy movie. It’s 1968 and Judy Garland, the world’s greatest entertainer, hasn’t eaten a meal or slept through the night in nearly 30 years. She’s 47 years old but looks like she’s 70, and hauls her poor kids around with her, doing vaudeville acts at the L.A. Moose Lodge or equivalent venues. Fresh out of ducats and losing custody, Judy must take a desperate, heroic journey to London, where people still want to pay money to hear her sing.
JUDY ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Rupert Goold
Written by: Tom Edge
Starring: Renée Zellweger
Running time: 118 min
That’s the basic premise of Judy, a sad elegy to a great woman who never truly got to live in reality. Renée Zellweger, who a few years ago found herself mocked for some facial enhancements that she may or may not have made, has certainly transformed here. Hiding behind a perma-mask and a great wig, she completely inhabits the body and soul of Judy Garland, who beneath the diva bravado was a wounded child who just wanted love. Zellweger wanders mesmerizingly around the screen for 45 minutes, swilling martinis and popping pills, before the band strikes up and she belts out a tune. Fortunately for us, Zellweger can really sing. Perhaps not as well as Judy Garland, but well enough, especially considering that endgame Garland had recently undergone a tracheotomy after a suicide attempt.
Zellweger’s intonations and mannerisms are appropriately funny, fabulous, and quite sad. When she says, “Who wants to hear The Trolley Song?”, I felt like sticking up my hand and saying “me! me! me!” but there were people sitting behind. Then there are more pills, more booze, a couple of more songs, and plenty of tears. It’s like the end of A Star Is Born, except that Zellweger is playing Garland playing James Mason.
If this sounds familiar to fans of Hollywood sob-story movies, it’s because it follows almost the exact same formula as last year’s Stan and Ollie. Judy takes place about 15 years further down the showbiz timeline, so the skirts are a bit shorter, but it has a similar vibe and setting. But Stan and Ollie at least boasted about a half-dozen memorable characters.While Judy does contain a couple dozen speaking parts, none of them are particularly memorable, and none of them can even hold a flicker to Zellweger’s roaring bonfire.
There’s a nice scene where she goes home with a couple of middle-aged gay fanboys after a performance, the dream of every repressed young fellow who bought a Live at Carnegie Hall LP. Later, she marries a schmo who kind of looks like Joaquin Phoenix and then dumps him after about three scenes. Her personal assistant in England always looks like she’s sucking on a lemon. But this is, as Judy Garland required, a one-woman show.
The film features a few flashbacks to young Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz. These provide context clues to the staggeringly tragic pillhead we behold for much of the film’s too-long run-time. The scenes between teen Judy and studio head Louis B. Mayer are creepy and effective, and it well sets up the movie’s corny but ultimately humanistic and effective ending, where a graying, dying Garland seems to wisp away on stage under the gazing of a loving audience.
I would be surprised if Zellweger isn’t holding up an Oscar next February. Her performance is that absorbing and complete. The rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to Judy Garland’s standard. But then again, no one and nothing ever could.
This concludes my review of the Judy movie.