Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival just last September to a standing ovation likely because Oscar Winner Renée Zellweger was present, JUDY makes its debut in theatres just two weeks after. Oscar winner Renée Zellweger delivers a note-perfect performance (she reportedly sang all the songs herself) as Judy Garland during the last year of her life. When one thinks of Judy Garland, one thinks good times like THE WIZARD OF OZ and the famous song “Over the Rainbow”, but those expecting a feel-good movie will be out of luck. In fact, the first song sung by Garland occurs after 40 minutes of screen time. The film is based on the Peter Quilter’s stage play “End of the Rainbow” which is pretty grim.
The film shifts to and fro, intercutting from Judy during the last year her life to the days where she was just 16 working at MGM Studios for MGM head, Louis B. Mayer. Two aspects of Judy’s life are portrayed and both heavily involve performances.
For the 16-year old, Judy is shown to be raised on film sets and nearly every aspect of her life — from what she could eat to who she could date to what drugs she should take — was dictated by MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. Mayer is shown just short of being as nasty as Harvey Weinstein. Judy became a wondrously gifted movie star who never learned to take care of herself.
When the film opens, the audience first sees Judy a middle-aged, homeless, broke, embroiled in a custody battle, and all but blacklisted in Hollywood. She is kicked out of the hotel is is staying at and she is left homeless with two children. She docks them off at her ex, Sid (Rufus Sewell). In a bid to regain some control of her career, she accepts a residency at a London theatre. She refuses to rehearse and, crippled by anxiety, insomnia, and alcoholism, can barely make it to the stage opening night. But once there, in the spotlight, before an eager audience, microphone in hand and a crackerjack band at the ready, she’s suddenly at home. And it’s magic. But not all the time. One scene has her collapse on stage and another being heckled but the audience and then boo’ed off after she loses it and insults the audience. These are not pleasant scenes to watch.
Though based on a play, the film does not feel like one, owing primarily to the frequent intercutting of Judy in her last year and Judy when young. Unfortunately, the film falls into cliched territory with the expected manager that uses her, her bout with alcohol and her descent from fame. There is little insight or background about Judy Garland that is provided. JUDY can best be described as a play about Judy Garland than a biopic.
The film has a few solid moments. The best of these is Judy’s chance encounter with a couple of gay admirers. They sing with Judy and reminisce of the times when they were arrested for gay behaviour. Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minelli are gay icons.
JUDY is an ok watch aided by a solid performance by Renée Zellweger but do not expect too much and you will not be disappointed.