Review of Judy, 2019
Judy, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Renee Zellweger at its core, covers a period in the great Judy Garland’s life when she was considered basically unemployable and uninsurable.
In her last year, Judy Garland received an offer to perform in London. Prior to this engagement, Garland was “on the move,” sometimes going from hotel to hotel (especially ones where she hadn’t exhausted their goodwill), occasionally playing clubs—all the while trying to remain a parent in “good standing.” Which can be hard when you’re occasionally stealing out of hotels (with the children) wearing clothes on top of clothes to disguise the fact that they are checking out without paying the bill. She also managed to continue both her losing streak with men, this time in the form of a young would-be dealmaker Mickey Deans—and her long, losing battle with alcohol and other drugs. It’s this late stage Judy that forms the basis of Judy, written by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter (based on Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow ). Whereas the play is entirely set in 1969, the screenwriters supply flashbacks to Garland’s early days at MGM, where we see the seeds being planted for the self-destructive behavior that was to come. These changes have sparked some discussion, but I think these add to a more complete picture of Judy. (Notice how her fans, of which I am one, continue to relate to her.)
Though the film is fairly well-written, with some fine supporting performances (Rufus Sewell and Finn Wittrock as Garland’s ex Sid Luft and prospective husband Mickey Deans respectively), there would be no Judy without Renee Zellweger’s superb, dynamic, touching portrayal. Zellweger brings out the many dimensions of Judy: her humor, her intelligence, her caustic wit, her vulnerability, and her self-awareness which goes hand in hand with a capacity for self-deception and denial. To top it off, the lady can sing. ‘Tis true, it’s not Judy Garland’s voice, but Zellweger captures Judy’s unmatched onstage energy (songs performed live by the way), her showmanship, the way she throws herself entirely into every song. She also perfectly captures the way Garland can caress a ballad and bring an air of intimacy to an entire theater. And if there is a more heartbreaking moment in movies this year than Garland/Zellweger’s late night call to her daughter, I’ll believe it only when I see it.