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Judy – Movie Review

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Judy – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

Judy Garland was a talent who lived a life full of difficulties, dating back to her years as a contract player for MGM. Judy, in depicting both her last few months and her days filming The Wizard of Oz, is able to portray her struggles and celebrate her incredible power over audiences. Thanks to a strong leading performance from Renee Zellweger, it’s a touching tribute to her legacy that also seeks to have the audience understand her a bit more. By eschewing the traditional biopic route, director Rupert Goold is able to tap into who Judy Garland was and her overall personality.

Throughout Judy, we hop between the two central time frames and Goold is able to do this seamlessly. By showing Garland in her younger years, there is enough context given for her later neurosis and trying her best to succeed in an industry that didn’t treat her in the best way. Both versions of Garland seen here are sympathetic, because we understand what she’s going through and where the alcoholism comes from. The movie also shows why her marriages ultimately fell apart as well as her good qualities that made people want to be friends with her. It’s a portrait of an artist that shows her many traits without painting her as a saint nor a demon.

Renee Zellweger has the tricky task of playing Judy Garland near the end of her life and she more than handles the job. She may not go for an exact impersonation, but Zellweger still captures the spark Garland frequently exhibited. Even when Garland is drunk, which is often, her stage persona nonetheless shines. As the sixteen year old Garland, Darci Shaw also deserves mention. Through the 1939 scenes, we see how the Hollywood system (especially MGM head Louis B. Mayer) took a toll on her and the movie doesn’t sugarcoat the details of her treatment as a teenage actress. Goold is able to effectively jump between the two time periods in a way that compliments the narrative.

While not an outright musical, Judy does have its share of songs and they each serve a purpose in giving an idea of Garland’s mindset. Even when she’s jovial on-stage, we know about the struggle she is facing in getting up there and performing. “The Trolley Song” is especially used to strong effect in one sequence. The period details are also well done and while rights issues probably prevented the production designers from doing a completely accurate recreation, it is neat seeing Judy Garland walk down the Yellow Brick Road of Oz again. The scenes set in 1968 London also capture the swinging nature of that era.

Judy could have been another biopic about a singer/performer, but it instead goes another route with the material that’s comparable to last year’s Laurel and Hardy biopic Stan and Ollie. The two films could almost be viewed in a double feature with how they depict aging Hollywood stars coping with a changing world, but still able to find those who cherish their talents and what they brought to the screen. It’s a touching and sincere tribute to Judy Garland that seeks to empathize even more with her and that Renee Zellweger is so good in the role makes the film even lovelier.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison