Tom Edge (Stageplay: Peter Quilter)
Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Gaia Weiss, Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd, Phil Dunster, Andy Nyman, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Richard Cordery, Darci Shaw, Gus Barry
PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking.
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
The life of Judy Garland is a Hollywood story that’s been explored several times. Titled simply Judy, this film takes us into the last months of her life performing in England with a look at her fading career.
Struggling financially after her ex-husband Sid Luft helped drain her bank account while acting as her manager, Garland tries to fund other revenue streams or risk the loss of custody of her two younger children. With a brief appearance of her older daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux), the film focuses on the ugly history of Hollywood where the young starlet was perpetually forced to adhere to expected standards, including diet and recreational activities. As we see the hardships she faced growing up, her later-life troubles gain new perspective as Renée Zellweger skillfully navigates through the crumbling emotional state of one of cinema history’s most important performers.
A career-defining performance from Zellweger gives Judy a firm central pillar around which to build its story. She brings to life Garland’s heart, depression, and trepidation with skill and grace. It’s a performance that stands out even more because of the picture surrounding it.
That film is fairly standard fare with the expected rises and falls in action punctuated by long periods of superfluous material that keeps the film from feeling well paced. Zellweger is surrounded by solid performers who aren’t working quite to her level including Rufus Sewell as Luft, Finn Wittrock as an opportunistic musician and future husband #5 Mickey Deans, Jessie Buckley as her London-based handler, and Michael Gambon as her employer.
While the film successfully exposes the warts of Hollywood life in the 1930s, it does so in rather conventional and uninspired ways. Even the “Over the Rainbow” sequence is predictably executed, which gives the film little to discover other than Zellweger’s stellar performance.
Director Rupert Goold’s two decades as a stage director haven’t given him the kind of experience that would allow a film like this to breathe. Based on the musical End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, the limited locales and staging of the film make for a difficult experience. The film features few sweeping moments with none of the life and verve one would expect from such a film. Zellweger’s performance outshines the film itself, which only serves to cheapen the way the rest of the picture looks.
Were it not for Zellweger, this film would have followed numerous other exposés of Hollywood legends into the forgotten abyss of cinema. Every year, numerous films attempt to explore the Golden Age of Hollywood with a critical eye, but none of them ever rise above the pablum. Judy is a film that is bland in large doses with the occasional burst of energy the exception rather than the rule, but is largely unmemorable.
March 10, 2020