Judy Garland is one of the most dynamic performers of the 20th century. With “The Wizard of Oz,” she became indelible in pop culture and soon became America’s sweetheart, but her road was undeniably rocky and not nearly as golden as the one depicted in Oz.
“Judy,” directed by Rupert Goold (“True Story”) and starring Renee Zellweger, captures the film star in all her volcanic charge and vulnerability. The film is authentic, honest and swiftly entertaining.
At first we see Judy as a girl (Darci Shaw), reassuring Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) of her commitment to Hollywood. She is driven.
Then it is 1969 and the struggling icon is desperate for work. She has a gangster-like ex, Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), who tightens the child custody pressure on her. All Garland wants to do is spend time with her two kids, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joe (Lewin Lloyd).
Garland has no choice but to seek lucrative means. She receives the opportunity to perform at a popular London dinner theater for an extensive engagement. Since it is far removed from the Hollywood media and a solid amount of money, Garland can’t refuse.
She is immediately taken by the kind and bustling city. No hotel would dare refuse her in London. But all is not rosy in Britain. Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) is hired as her aide and soon learns that the star is extremely difficult. Not only is she demanding, but Garland is addicted to pills and alcohol stemming from her ultra-strict regimen as a child star.
Happiness briefly returns when the actor meets the self-confident and dashing Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) who proposes the concept of putting Garland’s name on hundreds of movie theaters across America, making her loads of money.
Every episode in Garland’s later and very laborious life is handled well with grace and verve. Zellweger is at once a giving performer and a rabid storm. The film has the bravery to capture her cacophonous kitsch as well as her fragile beauty. We are present for her wonderful opening as well as her disastrous last engagement where she is heckled and sadly stumbles. Zellweger becomes a monster, indignant and ferocious, her hands transformed to vindictive claws, weapons of war.
Through the crisis, she never loses her humanity and her spirit. “I have a beautiful show for you,” Garland says, “I always give you a beautiful show!” Through it all, the show and her life must go on.
This is by far one of Zellweger’s best roles and the actor all but disappears.
“Judy” portrays Garland as a great engine who is compelled at any cost to act and entertain. The film re-creates the legend from all sides: her brash theatricality, her self-deprecation and her great pining, like a vampire’s hunger to be a good and ever-present mother.
Judy Garland was a consummate performer who lived for art, having a ravenous appetite to entertain well. Unfortunately, the Hollywood system was an even hungrier green machine that trapped and swallowed the great and powerful Judy Garland (both the image and the human being) whole with scarcely a witch’s belch.
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