Judy

Posted: October 22, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Rupert Goold. Starring Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock and Jessie Buckley.

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In 1969, and with her unreliability meaning she struggles to get work in the United States, Judy Garland (Zellweger) accepts an offer to perform at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London. She’s initially a hit, but her ongoing struggles with drugs and alcohol make her performances increasingly variable, one night she gets a standing ovation, the next she’s booed off stage.

As her life begins to unravel, she flashes back to her life a child star, and the strictures that were placed upon her that still haunt her decades later.

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It’s definitely the era of the biopic. I worked out I’ve seen four at the cinema in the last year. Bohemian Rhapsody, Stan and Ollie, Rocketman and now Judy, and to some degree or another I’ve enjoyed them all. Judy eschews the broad canvas of time employed by Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman and focuses on a specific part of its subject’s life. It perhaps has most in common with Stan and Ollie. Both films revolve around fading stars who leave Hollywood and decamp to London in order to perhaps get one final hurrah.

Whilst Stan and Ollie is a relatively light, affectionate piece—albeit one that packs an emotional punch—Judy is something darker. Laurel and Hardy had their vices, but they were nowhere near as messed up as Judy Garland, and the film pulls few punches in its flashbacks to the 1930s, where Darci Shaw does an excellent job with limited screen time as the young Judy. Here we see the starlet deprived of food and fed a diet of amphetamines to keep her working (and burn her fat off) and barbiturates to allow her to sleep and in the present day of 1969 Judy is still addicted to drugs, and still has issues with food. She’s now added booze to her list of problems.

I’ll be honest, it took a little while to accept Zellweger as Judy, not because she doesn’t put in a fine performance, but because she’s so recognisable she doesn’t always get lost in the role the way Taron Egerton did in Rocketman for example. Instead you often can’t lose sight of the fact that this is Zellweger playing Judy Garland, but then again perhaps Judy Garland was playing Judy Garland?

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My opinion shifted during the film. Maybe I just needed to acclimatise, but whatever the reason in the space of two hours I went from “This is Judy Garland’s Diary” to “Give that woman an Oscar, now!” Certainly Zellweger deserves a nomination at least, if only for that final performance of Over the Rainbow.

The film is well put together, and whilst the script rarely surprises—these biopics tend to have their own tropes and this film is no exception—there are two areas where the film truly comes alive. The first is all razzmatazz. When Zellweger gets on stage she owns it, and her singing is wonderful; and kudos for not only singing well, but singing well like Judy Garland. The second area is more intimate, and features (an imagined as it turns out) incident where Judy goes home with two gay men for dinner. It’s heartfelt, and beautifully scripted and acted, by Zellweger and Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira as Stan and Dan.

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“My singing wasn’t that bad, was it?”

As the woman charged with keeping tabs on Judy, Buckley is very good as Rosalyn Wilder, never quite letting her disdain for some of Judy’s actions mask her growing affection for her. Wittrock is similarly good as Mickey Deans, the man who’ll become Judy’s last husband. There’s also decent work for Rufus Sewell as Judy’s ex-husband, though Michael Gambon has little to do as impresario   Bernard Delfont.

Really this is Zellweger’s film all the way though, and even if at times she doesn’t quite vanish into the part, she’s never less than mesmerising, and boy that girl can sing!

A solid film that rises above average by virtue of a great central performance and some wonderful musical numbers. It may not have the exuberance of Rocketman or the joy of Stan and Ollie, but Judy still deserves her place on centre stage.

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