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EUR REVIEW: ‘Judy’ – A Powerful Tale of Talent and Beauty

*With biopics of singers and entertainers in demand these days, following last year’s great “Bohemian Rhapsody” and this year’s not-so-great “Rocket Man”, it would take something special to stand out from the pack and lay claim to being an all-time film. Fortunately for fans of movies, of music, of stories that make their subject larger than life yet relatable, “Judy” delivers.

This is due, largely to part to Renee Zellweger’s transcendent performance as Judy Garland. Zellweger has the legendary entertainer’s voice and mannerisms down, and shows such a range of emotion, you forget you are looking at an actress and instead lose yourself in an icon’s life. However, one must enter “Judy” not expecting a feel-good story or an abundance of smiles. With Tom Edge basing his screenplay of “Judy” on Peter Quilter’s book “End of the Rainbow”, the film spends almost all of it’s 118 minute running time in the last few months of her career and life, shortly before her tragic death in 1969 due to an accidental barbiturate overdose.

However, the magic of “Judy” is that is able to still show you why her star shone so bright – and eventually would dim before flaring up again. As the film begins, we see Garland, “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” and a woman who earned millions, unable to rent a hotel room for her and her children because she is broke. She is desperate enough to seek out Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), her third husband who she had divorced on grounds of mental cruelty and had accused of physical abuse as well. Luft says since she is broke and, due to no one booking her because she is “unreliable and uninsurable” he is going to sue for full custody of their children, because he feels they need to go to school and have overall financial and social stability, instead of touring with their mother.

Unable to be booked in America due to her personal problems and increasingly unprofessional behavior, Garland is offered a 5-week gig at the Talk of the Town Nightclub in London. Though grateful for the work, she is devastated that in order to keep her children, she must leave them. Upon arriving in London, Garland is met by Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley), who would soon prove herself unflappable as the chaotic star’s assistant. It is here where the film really takes off and Zellweger really shines. We see Garland’s obvious drug and alcohol dependency, her depression and insecurity. With the aid of Wilder, we see her literally crawl out of bed in no apparent condition to perform and then somehow still come across as “The World’s greatest Entertainer”.

We see her charm a room and making people laugh and then see her fight against her feelings of loneliness. We see her empathetic with kind fans and, while inebriated on stage, curse one out. This is in addition to the introduction of her 5th and last husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), in which we see a clearly rejuvenated and happy Garland when she is feeling in love and an even more depressed icon when they are not, with all the negative consequences her self-medicating would bring. Without giving too much away, let it be noted that Garland singing “Over The Rainbow” is done at the most opportune time and most powerful manner. The song that would make her a star and that symbolized both her stardom and pain.

The film does not show Garland’s death, but it does give us a glimpse of what made such a star, thought of as beautiful by millions and with every reason to be secure and happy wound up extremely insecure and depressed.
One thing “Judy” does extremely well is flash back to moments when Garland was shooting “The Wizard of Oz” at the age of 15. It is clear that the role of Dorothy Gale that made her a global star came with a heavy price. As a 16 year old, Garland (played extremely powerfully by Darci Shaw) asks if she can have “just one day” to go to a movie like ordinary teen girls.and is told by Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, that there is a girl in every small town that wants to be Dorothy “and every one is prettier than you.” She also is not allowed to celebrate her birthday, eat anything that might put on pounds or even date, even though she has the typical teen longing for her first kiss and other typical rites of passage.

As you see example after example of why Garland later said she felt like she never had a childhood, it becomes easier to understand her desire to make up for lost time and overindulge later in life. However, MGM also provided her with diet pills, uppers and downers in order to stay trim, work and sleep. Her physical addiction and emotional trauma would last the rest of her life and lead to the woman we see onscreen. A woman who director Rupert Goold paints a portrait of, using Zellweger and Shaw, in a manner that will have you feeling every chuckle of her fun-loving side that was never allowed to be explored until it became a scar that would never heal. We are touched by a woman that we see loves almost everyone, yet never truly feels that anyone loves her in return.
This makes her musical numbers reach Herculean dramatic and emotional heights. Because now that we better know the complex person singing them, you will wish she had been allowed to go over her own personal rainbow.

Grade: A+

“Judy” is in theaters now.

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