Judy and all the images you see in this review are owned by LD Entertainment
Directed by Rupert Goold
Yeah, I know I’m late on this one and on a LOT of things! October was busy for me, alright!? Well it’s time to get back on track and we’re starting with this movie I saw SEVERAL weeks ago and can hopefully give a worthwhile critique on; at least the parts that I can remember! It probably doesn’t help either that I know absolutely nothing about the person in question as the only movie I’ve seen of hers is the one we’ve ALL seen, and I had no idea what her story was before and after that famous role. Will this be the movie that’ll teach me everything I should have known and turn me into a Judy Stan, or will this biopic get lost in the shuffle; right next to those Tupac and Mötley Crüe biopics that you’ve already forgotten about? Let’s find out!!
Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) has had a rough go of it throughout the sixties with all her money drying up and her two young kids living out of hotel rooms and working nights with her mother on small stages for peanuts. With no money, no house, and two kids who need stability and an education, she makes a very difficult decision to have them stay with her ex-husband while she goes to London for an extended stint at a nightclub where she’ll make a strong stable income as long as she can keep her demons in check. Said demons by the way were born in flashbacks that we see throughout the movie as a young Judy (Darci Shaw) struggles in a terrifyingly oppressive Hollywood system that controls her every move and doesn’t bat an eye at giving her various drugs to keep her awake and focused. Will Miss Garland be able to give the performances of a lifetime and finally secure a bit of stability for herself as well as her family back home? Will her handlers in London be able to curb her more destructive behaviors, and are they doing it for her sake or just because the show must go on? Is she gonna do that song about Rainbows? Man, what was that one called…
I really thought I was gonna like this movie a lot more than I did which is disappointing considering how much it has going for it. Renée Zellweger gives a fantastic performance as Judy Garland and the story of her abusive upbringing in the Hollywood system couldn’t be more relevant, but in the end I just wasn’t as invested as the filmmakers clearly wanted me to be. In a year that gave us Rocket Man this feels a little on the slighter side of things which may only get worse as we’ve got that Mr. Rogers film on the horizon as well, but it can rest easy knowing that it’s better than Bohemian Rhapsody! Sure it’s a low bar to clear, but I don’t mind making sure you all remember just how terrible that film was.
The big problem with this movie is its structure which separates her story quite starkly between the start of her film career with The Wizard of Oz and the end of it with her shows in London. Now I do tend to prefer biopics that don’t try to fit a whole person’s life into a two hour box, but the problem with having such a narrow focus in this movie specifically is that the full life picture is integral to understanding what led Judy Garland to this place in her life, and I just don’t know enough about her to fill in those blanks myself. A biopic doesn’t have to be a 101 course on its subject, but the narrative is so specifically a culmination of her life, her struggles, and her personal growth, and yet we aren’t told what she did between eighteen and forty six. Heck, her entire singing career which has more to do with this job in London than her role in the Wizard of Oz is never touched upon in the flashbacks and I left this movie not really getting a feel for her oeuvre or what made her such a big draw despite being so hard to work with and seemingly no longer relevant. There’s a scene where she goes to the home of a gay couple who break down in front of her out of some sense of gratitude while we see their massive Judy Garland collection, and it feels like the culmination to a story we didn’t see. With a scene like that I should know if she was an advocate or outspoken ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, but there’s no context provided by the movie for this moment. We don’t get to see ANYTHING leading up to these moments and it feels like we’re getting payoffs to a story no one bothered to tell us.
Almost everything besides that is pretty good which makes it so frustrating that I had trouble really connecting with the story. The supporting cast is fine, the cinematography is lively during the performances, and they do a good job showing the darker side of Judy Garland’s life and by extension the business itself, but what it ultimately comes down to is Renée Zellweger’s performance which is what people are going to remember about this movie. Perhaps someone more familiar with Judy Garland’s body of work could find issues here and there with the way she’s portrayed here, but I found it convincing as far as the character they were establishing throughout the movie; someone hurt by a lifetime of abuse in the quest for stardom and is now facing the consequences of that in the latter half of her life. She’s still got it when she needs to, but it’s clearly taking a lot out of her to try and be what everyone in that audience wants her to be, and it’s yet another reason that I wished they could have shown us anything about her as this kind of performance; especially what she must have been like at her peak which I have no doubt Renée Zellweger could have pulled off. With what she has to work with though, I think it’s a knockout performance and completely carries this otherwise competent if not particularly noteworthy film.
I can see fans of Judy Garland getting quite a bit out of this movie what with Renée Zellweger’s performance being as amazing as it is, and it seems to hit quite a few of the highlights of her later life; especially the struggles she went through and what she tried to do to overcome them. For everyone else, maybe see a documentary first and then wait for the home release of this one. For me, I just couldn’t get all that into it and the scale of the movie doesn’t really lose anything if you end up seeing it on a smaller screen. Also, you PROBABLY don’t want to make this a double feature with The Wizard of Oz unless you want to instill the harsh realities of entertainment and show business into your unsuspecting children. I guess it’s never too soon to teach them not to trust producers!