If you are familiar with the life story of Judy Garland, you will most likely remember tales of forced drug dependency, failed marriages and a brilliant performer who was a victim of the studio system that made her one of the best known stars in the world.
In “Judy,” which opens Friday, we get a glimpse into the end of Garland’s career. Portrayed by Renee Zellweger, Garland is shown to be, among other things, a fatigued, drifting, hopeless person who simply wants to be at home with her children. Through it all, Garland maintains a sharp-witted sense of humor, but is also seen as a needy child, a diva and a misunderstood woman. It’s a sad story to watch, although there are moments of joy and tenderness as well.
We join Garland in her final months as she attempts to revitalize her career in England, triumphing at times and failing as well. The moments when the audience turns on her are awful to watch, and it’s easy to see why paranoia and rejection were so prevalent in Garland’s life.
This glimpse into Garland’s story has been tailored to fit into the current mentality of our society. The #metoo movement is hinted upon when a young Garland, played unconvincingly by a miscast Darci Shaw, is bullied by L.B. Mayer and inappropriately touched. Mayer, a small man in reality, was not a towering figure in real life. Still, the scenes are meant to tell us what Garland endured and why she has the feeling, at times, that everyone is against her. The flashback scenes, in my opinion, are superfluous and take away from the main story. They could have been done a little better. Anecdotes from Garland’s talk show appearances, in which she often embellished stories, are included in the movie as well, adding to some of the fictionalized elements. She sings “The Man That Got Away” after a fight with her fourth husband, which seems a tad silly. Overall, the writers moved events around to sentimentalize things. The darker moments of life, including the neglect and poor treatment of her children, are not shown in the movie.
Still, audiences will be impressed with the performance of Zellweger. She appears a little clownish with her facial expressions and seems to be working on the imitation rather than the depth of the character. One can’t deny that she’s studied Garland to a tee, and has the mannerisms, the voice and the walk that Garland had when she seemed to float around the stage. She has a great singing voice, but even a great singer can’t always capture the nuances of a legend, and we shouldn’t expect that from Zellweger anyway. The performance will go down as one of her best and it’s an admirable comeback for an actress we haven’t seen in a while.
The supporting cast is forgetful, although I thought Jessie Buckley as Garland’s assistant was convincing and good in her role. Some of the storyline, as I said, is a bit contrived and fictionalized. Zellweger is the best part of the whole show.
Go see it, especially if you are a fan of Garlands. You’ll want to see what Zellweger does with her. Some folks will think it’s the best ever.
My grade: B- …Simply because I don’t like the way the movie took liberties with how things really happened.