This musical biopic captivates on the tremendous performance from Renée Zellweger.
As we’ve seen, musical biopics are Oscar catnip. An artless one(looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody) still cleans up with the Academy. Many of those films, including excellent musical biopics like Ray, muddle through with lip syncing leads. Not Judy. In Rupert Goold’s engaging biopic of Judy Garland, Zellweger steps up to the mic and leaves it all out there on the stage.
In the last year of her life, famed actress and singer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) finds herself with few prospects. Four times divorced and largely shunned by American talent promoters for personal problems, she’s essentially homeless. In the eleventh hour, an offer to play in London gives Judy one last shot, though it takes her away from her two young children. Unfortunately, her demons, Hollywood created, travel along with her.
Judy remains largely faithful to the famous stage play, End of the Rainbow, upon which the story draws. As such, it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, or its protagonist. The hard-drinking, haunted, mercurial Garland of legend is on display. The portrayal draws its resonance from Zellweger’s complete investment in the character.
I was surprised to learn that Renée Zellweger performed Garland’s songs. We knew she could sing from films such as Chicago, but Garland’s voice remains unique. I was floored by how powerful Zellweger’s performance of them was. I was also impressed that she often performed the numbers live with the musicians and audience. It’s quite a feat.
Behind the Music.
For all of the vocal talent, I found the moments behind the stage show to be the most effective. Part of this rests on Zellweger’s Judy sometimes feeling like a character from a movie instead of a person. It’s when she’s not performing to an audience that Garland and Zellweger feel the most vital and relatable.
The film uses several flashbacks to show the awful treatment Garland received from MGM and her handlers to become a child star. Darci Shaw plays young Judy; while she can feel, again, like an echo of the Judy we know from the screen, the young actress does a fantastic job.
Leave Them Wanting More.
Judy succeeds in telling a fraught and emotional tale about a beloved Hollywood icon. It lets you in behind the glitz and glamour (without leaving the showy stage portions out) to see a destructive studio system and the damaged legend it created. Fans of Garland the singer will appreciate the strong musical performances and nice song selection; fans of Garland the human being will appreciate the harrowing look at end of her life, brought into sharp focus by a stellar performance from Renée Zellweger.