While the focus of this movie is of course Judy Garland and primarily the last year of her life, “JUDY” opens with a behind the scenes look of with a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) being berated by her publicist/handler and MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. Not allowed to eat, not allowed to have friends, working 18 hour days and most notably, the start of her pill addiction that would eventually take her life. While watching, you can’t help but wonder why these things were even allowed and social norms for the time. The studio system was set up as such, to where the only people in control of all the lives underneath them, were the studio heads themselves. A selfish group of old men whose true stories would only be revealed years later as their power was lost.
That being said “Judy” might well be one of the saddest movies of the year, while Rene Zellweger’s performance of this icon, might just be the best of the year. This is a sparkling, yet honest look at the last year of Garland’s life, giving us a closer look at the legendary 1968 “Talk of the Town” London engagement, the promising effort for a physically and emotionally exhausted Judy Garland to reignite her fading career. For her to capture one last moment on the ‘yellow brick road’ before her accidental overdose on drugs, which is depicted here with a surgeon’s accuracy. The days are counted in despair over her addictions and most of all the separation from her children. Nothing much is pretty about her life, and most of it seems desperate.
There are a few notable problems with the film that while you understand not every single thing can be depicted, they could at least have given us, say a bit more of her already famous daughter Liza Minnelli, whom at the time depicted in this movie, was 23, making movies, and on a career trajectory that would result in an Oscar three years later. But here she only exists in a moment, at a random party Judy attends when she comes back from a short gig with her younger children and doesn’t have a home or hotel that will let her in. Only Garland’s two later children Lorna and Joey, fathered by Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) are primarily shown to us. It’s also at this same party that Judy meets her last and youngest husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock). He shows up in London and before you can say Toto! they are married. It seems Judy was always stuck with some type of handler whether it be a stage manager or a husband, there was always someone wanting to dictate her life’s moves to her. To push and pull her in all directions.
As noted, kids aren’t the only thing missing. There is a huge gap of nothing past her early days with Mickey Rooney and the 60’s, which actually included two Oscar nominations and a Grammy award for Album of the Year. Also a short-lived television show where she did a memorable duet with a then almost unknown, 21-year-old Barbara Streisand. Considering the range of celebrities she worked with, the opportunities for quality namedropping are limitless – but aside from Mickey Rooney, there’s a pronounced lack of showing us anything. Well thank goodness for a subplot involving two gay fans and their evening with her. It’s endearing and the best way to show how she impacted those on the margins of society. The final scene when she sings Rainbow involves the gay duo and is hokey but effectively sentimental and lyrical like the song itself.
But don’t get me completely wrong, the film has heart, in matter of speaking it has in fact loads of it. The script, costumes and sets take the audience on a virtual trip back into the last days of the ultimate performer’s life. We meet a different Judy – and older one who has been dealt all of life’s blows, only to keep coming back again and again – because no matter what, she still had that voice. The drama is punctuated by songs, sung well by Zellweger, and by her Oscar-worthy performance which is remarkable as she captures every single nuance of Garland’s mannerisms and body movements, even the “hunchback” part that Louis B. Mayer used against her as a child when calling her his ‘little hunchback. But, of course, her voice is not Garland’s. That voice is what we will always remember and the little girl who made us so happy by clicking her heels twice and taking us somewhere over that rainbow.
What is made clear in this film is that Judy Garland is the definition of a tortured soul. It is thoughtful and provocative in it’s telling of this trip portraying a life that was not lead down “The Yellow Brick Road” as we were once lead to believe. This movie is a very worthwhile look at the life of Judy Garland. See it for Judy, or see it for Renee, or see it for both … just see it.
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, September 25, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup
“JUDY” is out in theaters nationwide this Friday, September 27, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING