Director: Rupert Goold | Runtime: 118mins | biography, drama
Low on money and struggling to keep a hold of her children, legendary performer Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) decides to do a tour in London. While there, her personal relationships and substance abuse begin to take their toll.
One of the figures in the studio-system’s history is the story of Judy Garland, a beloved star who, as a child, was fed pills to help with weight and sleep which profoundly effected her future in the industry and caused addiction in her adulthood. This something that Judy touches upon with flashbacks, but for the majority of the time we see her just months before her death, trying to redeem her image and financial situation with a tour in London. This sets up the redemptive qualities that the movie has to offer, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite match the legendary status of it’s main character.
The film’s strongest hand is Renee Zellweger, who’s portrayal accentuates not only the powerhouse image of a golden-era actress, but also the fragility that comes with a lifetime of manipulation and abuse. She nails the tics and movements perfectly, but what has always made a good portrayal great is the transition of imitation to embodiment. The scenes where Garland is characteristically a diva are fleeting but honest, and for the more tragic parts of the movie Zellweger does more than test her vocal cords, finding range and emotion in the simplest of ways all while keeping within the tight bubble of her character.
The film often wants to show the reason behind Garland’s troubled existence by way of flashbacks, usually depicting the relationship between her and MGM head, Louis B. Mayer. Most of these scenes, while a little ham-handed, do their job in showing us just how much affect it had on the star. Showing the reality and control of her situation, and that the sadness came not just from the pill-pushing but her lack of childhood (and implied harassment). One scene sees young Judy and young Mickey Rooney on a ‘date’, which turns out to be just a show for the cameras. The only problem these scenes have are that, considering the direct parallels to the main story, the transitions seem to be a little jolting, not letting the two timelines flow simultaneously but interrupt each other instead.
To be 100% accurate is impossible, unless the story fits perfectly into formula there are always going to liberties taken. But what seems to be evidently clear is that the story of Judy Garland is not a redemptive one, but a tragedy. The film’s intention is to show the star climbing back from the bottom, and while there is nothing to suggest this wasn’t Garland’s intention, the movie gives in to a feel-good ending rather than spiraling with the reality. There’s nothing particularly cinematic in the truth but sometimes that’s what you need, many films have found such a voice with their down-to-earth approach and maybe Judy needed the same. As nice as it is to watch a crowd of people sing Over the Rainbow to her, it completely takes you out of it and makes Garland a character rather than a person.
For all it’s issues and our shoulda-woulda-couldas, Judy still manages to give us an impression of the real story, and with Renee Zellweger giving the performance of her career there is no doubt that most of the attention will be on her. But just like the movies character, the film can’t help but give-in to the Hollywood treatment, and gives you more glits and glamour than it probably needs to. Having said that, with or without the film you will always appreciate the legend that is Judy Garland, and in the face of adversity she is still an icon that will be preserved in history for a long time.