Directed by: Rupert Goold
Screenplay by: Tom Edge
Based on the stage play “End of the Rainbow” by: Peter Quilter
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon
As a kid, I remember “The Wizard of Oz” being a film about hope, that there was something better for all of us if we had the courage to persevere over evil. Judy Garland always impressed me with her voice. It was, unfortunately the only performance I can remember seeing her Ms.Garland’s.
Rupert Goold’s “Judy,” based on the musical drama “End of the Rainbow,” recounts the last months leading up to her premature death in 1968. Tom Edge’s screenplay infuses the child, Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) with the adult Garland (Zellweger) as she struggles to take care of her children while continuing to perform.
Unlike “IT: Chapter II” which makes use of similar flashbacks to connect the characters, Goold and Edge use the flashbacks with a purpose, building the motivations of the adult Garland; driving her to continuously drink and use drugs to control her lack of sleep and her lack of appetite. Zellweger disappears completely into the character; she is stunning and gorgeous.
As Garland, Zelwegger is a range of emotion, whether she is addressing her children, talking to her ex, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) or on stage, performing there is a level of confidence in Zellweger’s performance that is magical; my heart fluttered at her pain and delighted when she belted out a tune. There was a tenderness in her approach that gave the character a flawed, human touch, which is reinforced by the ongoing struggles she had as a child actor. There is an early scene with Louis B. Mayer on the “Wizard of Oz” set. Goold uses this early scene to set us up for the constant bullying she endured along with defining the screen character’s own rebellious streak. One thing that the story doesn’t necessarily make clear is whether the rebellion as a child is due to the demands of the job or if she was naturally a rebel, but it is a small concern.
The flashbacks do not limit the pacing of the film, but the lack of a focal center for the story does; often I felt as if Judy was a character on the sideline of her own story, and perhaps with the drugs and alcohol involved, that was the point. Yet, there were times when the film was lucidly aware that Judy was a star, that she was a performer first, but that she also needed support, even when she didn’t want it, namely in the form of Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley).
There were several times during the film where Ms. Wilder looked at Garland with bewilderment as the performer suffered through her stupors, but managed to maintain her composure. There was an awkwardness between the two ladies during the earlier parts of the film that seemed off putting, but also gave Finn Wittrock an opportunity to shine as Mickey Deans, Garland’s second husband and business manager. Sadly, Mickey Deans comes just as quickly as he goes and the film seems content to not go into further details surrounding their brief marriage.
“Judy” doesn’t seem interested in questioning her last days beyond the constant abuse of drugs and alcohol, or even why she took her own life. There are questionable editing issues in the third act and some camera shots that look positively out of focus that I found distracting.
It does, however celebrate the life of an amazing performer who touched lives in an exceptionally positive way, especially as a gay icon.
The film has a smaller story thread of a gay couple who have the opportunity to interact with someone of Garland’s caliber. The couple, portrayed by Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira, are her biggest fans, but they represent the most beautiful, and lasting impact she had on people, especially when Nyman’s character, Dan breaks down over how the government has treated his relationship with Stan (Cerqueira); my heart melted. I swooned over Zelwegger’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It is both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
“Judy” is a character study of the struggles Judy Garland went through. It is a flawed look at those aspects. Ms. Zellweger, who just absolutely inhabits Ms. Garland’s personae, is as good as it gets.
I’m in tears just finishing up this review, that’s how much I loved her performance.
2.75 out of 4