There’s at least one Oscar-grab movie released every year designed with the intent on pushing its lead performer to the front of the nominee queue. Judy appears to be that movie for 2019. And that’s certainly not a criticism against the film as it’s a fine biopic in its own right, but Renee Zellweger‘s dedicated turn as a tragic Judy Garland elevates a film working with a tried and true formula to something of genuine wonder.
Based mostly around the performer’s twilight years, where she was relegated to touring the UK, Judy makes a statement about both Garland’s deteriorating balance and the need she had to better the lives of her young children. With her money drying up and Hollywood studios uneasy at the thought of financing a picture based solely off her name – the film makes no secret of the fact that she was notoriously difficult to work with – a series of concerts in the UK, where she was still idolised, proved the most viable option.
As a biopic, Judy doesn’t break any new ground, though the Tom Edge-penned script at least opts for a slightly unconventional narrative in that it only places focuses on a specific period of her life rather than delving further back through a childhood we can only assume was rife with monstrosities; occasionally, director Rupert Goold visits her golden years post-Wizard of Oz where the demeaning way she was treated as a product rather than a human shines a light on her unorthodox upbringing.
In fact, Judy rarely sugarcoats its material (save for a performance of “Over The Rainbow” which is effective though emotionally manipulative) by openly showcasing the brutal reality that is being a Hollywood star; diet pills, sexual harassment, volatile managers…would you like fries with that? And the harsh treatment Garland suffered as a result is instilled in Zellweger’s performance as her ease at berating an unenthusiastic audience member or her signature jitter demonstrates.
In a lesser actress Judy could’ve easily disintegrated into mockery, but Zellweger absolutely commands your attention at every moment; her musical performances are true moments of awe-inspiring brilliance. And though it’s easy to dismiss Zellweger from an appearance point of view, the subtle use of make-up and prosthetics evoke a genuine reaction that what we are witnessing is Judy Garland and not just a good imitation.
As heartbreaking as it is joyous, Judy is ultimately a celebration of the performer, buoyed by a dedicated, loving turn from Zellweger, arguably one of the more talented and likeable actresses of her generation.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Judy is screening nationally from October 17th 2019 following advance screenings 11th-13th October 2019.