‘Judy’ movie review: Renée Zellweger shines in this stunning biopic of an enigmatic star

‘Judy’ is Zellweger’s exclusive playground, overshadowing every other character

‘Judy’ is Zellweger’s exclusive playground, overshadowing every other character  

The star deserves every accolade for her career-defining performance as Judy Garland, one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived

When Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) is asked if she takes anything for depression, a dry, bored voice replies, “Four husbands. Didn’t work.” The biting albeit self-deprecating wit, offers a shred of a glimpse into the tragic life of one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived. Zellweger portrays Garland as never fully intent on revealing a vulnerability to the world, that’s unfortunately on display for everyone to see.

In Judy, director Rupert Goold brings the West End and Broadway play End of the Rainbow to the big screen on Zellweger’s slender but very able shoulders. The film recounts the last year of the starlet’s life, when at the age of 47 — broke, financially and physically — Garland had to make her way to London to earn enough money to get her children back from an ex-husband. Through flashbacks, Goold crafts a narrative of Garland’s troubled childhood. We see the strain substance abuse takes on a young mind and body; the exploitation and manipulation rampant in show business that’s only slightly abated today, and the destruction it can wreak on a fragile spirit.

  • Director: Rupert Goold
  • Cast: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon
  • Storyline: Judy Garland is broke and loses her kids to her ex-husband. The only option is a move to London

At present in 1968, Garland is unemployable, unreliable, inebriated or intoxicated most of the time, temperamental, depressed and anxious. But all of this is conveyed through a performance of a lifetime by Zellweger with every eyebrow raise, facial twitch, nervous tick and an ever-so-slight hunch — as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, Louis B. Mayer caller her ‘My little hunchback’.

Though her vocal prowess can’t quite match Garland’s range, Zellweger acts her heart out, becoming the Wizard of Oz star. The actor embodies Garland’s vulnerability, sadness and wistfulness through and through. The depth of this performance peaks at a long-shot number at London’s Talk of the Town club. After the adrenaline-fuelled show, Garland’s despondent in her changing room, lamenting, “What if I can’t do it again?” As the protagonist in the film admits, she’s Judy Garland for only one hour a night. The rest of the time, it’s evident she’s just as lost and hungry for love like the rest of us.

Judy is Zellweger’s exclusive playground, overshadowing every other character, even the impressive assistant Rosalyn Wilder who Jessie Buckley plays with brilliant clipped restraint. There’s a myopic focus on the last few months of Garland’s life with insufficient context to architect a well-rounded biopic. Flashback snippets alone cannot do justice to an illustrious through fraught life like Garland’s. But Zellweger overcomes any and all faults, eliciting admiration, empathy and love for a star who is still as enigmatic five decades after her death.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 12:11:25 PM |

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