Rupert Goold’s Judy offers a complex and disturbing portrait of a difficult star near the end of the road.
The Production: 3/5
Biographical films certainly aren’t a new movie phenomenon. They have been around almost as long as there have been movies, and lots of men and women have won Oscars portraying real-life people on film. Many icons of the 20th century, however, have been given the movie treatment in the 21st century, and now Judy Garland joins the ranks of Winston Churchill, Freddie Mercury, Stephen Hawking, and Margaret Thatcher, among others, who have gotten the cinematic treatment in recent years. Rupert Goold’s Judy deals with only small portions of the life of one of the world’s greatest entertainers, but they are pivotal moments in her life poised at both the beginning and ending of her stardom.
With few prospects for work in America based on her difficulties rising to the moment as the 1960s are drawing to a close, Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) accepts a five-week engagement at the Talk of the Town in London, a city which had been the site of a couple of her greatest triumphs in concerts in 1952 and 1964. Miserable at the thought of leaving her two school-aged children (Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd) behind in California with their father Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), Judy nevertheless accepts the engagement. Club manager Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) has provided Judy with an assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) during her engagement, but Rosalyn doesn’t quite realize the job she has on her hands: to nurse and nudge the petrified Judy through the long days and nights until her next on-stage appearance means keeping pills and liquor in check, a job which she sometimes finds hard to manage. Fortunately, when young entrepreneur Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) follows Judy from Los Angeles to London, their romance bolsters Judy into wanting to cooperate with everyone around her.
Tom Edge’s screenplay is based on the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, but the three or four scenes set in 1938 which have been added where the young Judy Garland (played by Darci Shaw who doesn’t resemble Garland at all) is prepping for the filming of The Wizard of Oz (to show us the origins of Judy’s drug addiction, lack of self-confidence, and defiant streak only to be contrite later) tend to be unnecessary exclamation points on the problems with which we are all well aware and which are emphasized throughout the adult portions of the picture. Writer Edge and director Rupert Goold don’t have Judy sing for nearly forty minutes into the movie, all of better for the audience to adjust to the vivid impersonation Renee Zellweger is attempting, but never fear, many of the Garland evergreens (including “By Myself,” “The Trolley Song,” “Get Happy,” For Once in My Life,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Over the Rainbow”) are worked into the movie. More interesting (and factual), however, are the scenes involving Mickey Deans’ whirlwind involvement in Judy’s world, introducing her to the mod fashions of Carnaby Street and building her hopes for a secure source of future income which would end her endless singing tours. (One thing the movie doesn’t touch on was Mickey’s lowering the keys of Judy’s music to accommodate her voice deepened from years of pill and alcohol abuse.) Director Goold does capture some of the excitement of Judy on stage when the voice was working and the crowd was digging it and doesn’t shy away from the scenes where Judy can’t deliver the goods and is whistled at by the crowd as they pelt her with dinner rolls, but the script does seem lacking in scenes of romantic tiff when Mickey disappoints Judy and they appear to break up. (They actually remained together to the end of her life, six months after the film’s story ends.) There is also an unnecessary side trip to the apartment of a gay couple (Phil Dunster, Royce Pierreson) that corroborates Garland’s fanatical lure to gays of the era in some tender moments but doesn’t seem to justify otherwise its inclusion in the film.
Renee Zellweger offers a brave stab at portraying Judy Garland at probably the most chaotic period in her life where she had basically been abandoned by everyone. Her self-deprecating sense of humor is there as well as her well-known hair-trigger temper, and costumes and make-up have done an astonishing job to transform the Zellweger we know to the Judy we’re getting to know. But it was a mistake for Renee to do her own singing. In Garland’s last year, her singing voice was husky and occasionally uncertain (YouTube clips from her Tonight Show and Merv Griffin Show appearances right before she left for London show this), but Zellweger’s singing is strong and clear throughout (though still lacking Judy’s power and verve even when having vocal difficulties) and never remotely sounds like Garland. Finn Wittrock is an appealing if superficial Mickey Deans while Rufus Sewell registers more strongly in two scenes as Judy’s third husband Sid Luft. Jessie Buckley is up to the challenge as harried assistant Rosalyn while Richard Cordery as the vicious, demanding Louis B. Mayer doesn’t much resemble the notorious mogul but certainly fills the bill at least the way Judy always described him (other stars who worked at MGM had conflicting stories about his cruelty and kindness.)
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Blacks are rich and deep, and colors are bright and deeply saturated, especially the array of on-stage and off-stage wardrobe which Renee finds herself in. Contrast has been superbly applied for a crystal clear and inviting picture. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is an excellent one with the musical sequences filling the front and rear soundstages with enveloping audio. Dialogue and song lyrics are always completely clear, and the audio mix balances the dialogue, music, and sound effects with a professional sheen.
Special Features: 1.5/5
From the Heart: The Making of Judy (4:05. HD): this brief promotional featurette features director Rupert Goold, writer Tom Edge, and stars Renee Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley, and Rufus Sewell.
Judy Image Gallery (1:17, HD): a video montage of stills from the film and the stateside poster advertising the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (1:13, HD)
Lionsgate Trailers: Juliet, Naked; The Peanut Butter Falcon, Words of Love, Whitney.
Rupert Goold’s Judy offers a complex and disturbing portrait of a difficult star near the end of the road. While the script takes some shortcuts in characterization and liberties with the facts (while admirably retaining other truths), fans of the actors or its legendary title character will not want to miss this incarnation of one of the real 20th century originals.