Screen legends don’t come larger than Judy Garland, the legendary performer and star of the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz who was beloved by millions and adored for her extraordinary voice. Judy chronicles the story of what happened next to Garland when the lights had ceased to sparkle and Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger gives an incredible performance in a film that is utterly spectacular.
Thirty years after starring in “The Wizard of Oz,” beloved actress and singer Judy Garland arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans and begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband.
While stars shine bright, the light eventually wanes and if there was one star who knew this more than anyone else it was Judy Garland. Beloved in her youth for her incredible voice and wholesome appearance, the years following her time at MGM would take their toll on the great performer and this is where director Rupert Goold settles his focus in Judy. Following Garland through her marital and financial troubles, Judy focuses in on the stars’ final London performances where she was desperate to make a comeback…and which was plagued by problems and errors. Goold brings an authenticity to the film in how he frames his focus around Garland. As a director he’s not afraid to be truthful about her character and even though the events of this film can feel hard to watch at times, he has focused on the film with such clarity that you get a fully rounded portrait of who Judy Garland was and the issues and troubles she was battling against.
In terms of her performance, Renée Zellweger’s turn as Judy Garland is simply astounding. This Academy Award winner offers up a fully transformative performance as the acclaimed cinema icon and when we see her take to the screen we are not seeing Renée Zellweger the actress, we are seeing Judy Garland the lost performer whose starlight has faded fast. Through incredible hair and make-up and wardrobe, Zellweger slips into the shell of Garland and exudes her Golden Age glamour and strut, but it is her psychological and emotional range where she sets herself apart. Stepping into the mindscape of the pained Garland, Zellweger expresses a persona of immense trouble and pain that is kept at bay by a range of substances.
Battling the demons of her past and an existence that has left her as more of a product rather than an individual, Zellweger’s presence ranges from light and joyous moments to incredibly harsh self-loathing and painful comedowns caused by her reliance and over-use of substances. All of it is conveyed with a naturalness on Zellweger’s behalf and her performance as Garland reaches into the soul of her audience. What sets Zellweger’s performance apart is her expression of Garland’s love for performance, and even when faced with the darkest of circumstances she draws upon the presence of her audience to lift herself up. It’s these moments that stay with you courtesy of Zellweger, and her expression of them is simply flawless.
In portraying Judy Garland, Zellweger also gets to unleash her voice once more and just as she did in 2002’s Chicago, she really can carry a note here. Those who love musicals and the classic songs of Garland’s voice will be very impressed with the music and song that is expressed throughout this film, and Judy’s final rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ is certain to move you to tears.
With its creative presentation, Judy is an incredibly lavish and glamourous piece of cinema and it shines on the biog screen. Goold and cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland have put together a beautifully rendered piece of film, which really captures the opulence of the swinging sixties and pulls it all together with a muted yet crisp colour palette. The frames of this film are beautifully constructed and Bratt Birkeland has incredible control over the way he uses and constructs the tonal hues of this film. All of it helps to make the cinematic experience of Judy that much deeper and this film is incredibly bold to watch.
Along with presenting a character study of its leading lady, Judy also examines the Hollywood dream and the underlying machine that powers it, along with what happens when the lights get turned off and the dream is over. While tales of Hollywood extravagance and excess are not uncommon, Judy’s presentation of Tinseltown’s shadow is very impressive with its focus on character and the repercussions felt by it. Goold again approaches his exploration of its subject matter with incredible honesty and you’ll certainly come away from this film with a different feeling towards Hollywood’s Golden Age after watching Judy.
In terms of character performance, they simply don’t come much better than Renée Zellweger’s turn as Judy Garland here, and audiences who witness it up on the big screen will be incredibly moved by what they see. Judy is a real spectacle and it certainly is a moving experience.
Image: Universal Pictures