Judy is a typical such film and focuses on a few months in 1968 in the life of the legendary Judy Garland, actress and singer from the golden age of Hollywood, who we all know as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Her glory days are behind her, she is addicted to pills and alcohol, she is divorced and lonely. She shops with children to earn a few dollars, until she gets the opportunity to do a series of concerts in London, where she has a large fan base.
During those few months, we also follow her as a little girl on film shoots, and it turns out that her problems started even then. The producers gave her various pills to keep her awake and productive longer, to reduce her appetite, and every minute of her rest was programmed. Judy rose to fame, but the mechanisms of old Hollywood exploitation and relentless work robbed her of her freedom, innocence, and childlike joy, with insomnia and a lifelong struggle with addiction as collateral damage.
Tom Edge’s screenplay, based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, is limited to a few important parts of Judy’s life. Those parts are not her discovery, rise and fall at MGM, some of the marriages, the birth of children and all the things we would expect from a typical biopic. The scenes from her youth are there to show how at that age she didn’t have anyone, that she was an addict and that she can’t imagine life without the love and adoration of her audience. Flashbacks are not frequent, but they are very effectively placed, and the routines of the child actor are almost the same as those of the adult busy performer. We realize that Judy was denied not only her childhood, but also the opportunity to grow up.
The plot of the film is simple because Judy, practically homeless and fighting for the custody of her two youngest children, agrees to perform in London. They expect her to be a star, but alcohol, pills and lack of sleep question her every performance. Those performances are very well realized, and the film has several musical sequences in which Judy is brilliantly accompanied by the camera. The director allows these scenes to focus on Renée Zellweger’s performance, and at the same time serves as a continuation of Judy’s current state, so that we understand that her problems do not disappear when she gets on stage.
Judy Garland is a witty, charming, talented woman who earned a reputation as a troubled and narcissistic diva, but the authors take a very sympathetic approach to her – neither glorify her, nor mourn her. They present her as a woman who is Judy Garland one hour a day, while the other hours she is a completely ordinary woman with her own needs and problems. She struggles with insomnia, she talks when she drinks, she is great with children and when the scene is hers, but she is aware that her existence is sad and she just wants to be supported and left alone.
Although she seems fragile, Judy acts as if nothing can upset her. The audience loves her, but she craves love and respect on a personal level. From the relationship with the head of the studio, Luje B. Majer (Richard Cordery), we see that she learned to doubt, criticize and even hate herself at a young age, and the vicious cycle of addiction did not work in her favor. Implicit threats kill her will to live, her life is the studio’s property, and such treatment of her has resulted in her constant need for a strong figure, which has further led to five failed marriages.
Renee Zellweger has been kind of underground for the past few years, attracting more attention for her facelifts than her roles. It turns out that she has made up for all those years here – she looks a lot like Judy, sings, dances, but I was especially delighted by the emotions and micro-expressions that flash on her face almost from second to second. Her impression of a lonely, abandoned woman is incredibly strong and I completely forgot that I was watching Renee Zellweger, I was already watching her as Judy Garland herself. I am confident that the award will be won in the upcoming season of film awards.
Judy is a narrowly focused, but emotionally very strong biographical story about one of the most tragic figures of the golden age of Hollywood – no matter how simple the story seems, the authors touched on something much deeper here, and the performance of Renee Zellweger in the lead role will hardly surprise and delight anyone.