Judy Garland has made herself over abundantly, showing us a different side of her complex personality per decade. Rupert Goold’s biographical film Judy, for brevity’s sake, only chooses to show two of those arguably iconic stages. The first is the younger version (Darci Shaw), constantly dealing with Louis B. Mayer at her side. He tells her that there are prettier girls that her, which is the MGM way of raising children. The second is her at 46 (Renée Zellweger) who has a reputation as a difficult person to work with. At this point in her storied life, she has to perform with her daughter Lorna Luft (Bella Ramsay). Those local gigs don’t pay as much, but she has the option of performing in far away London. The London gigs can give her more financial security but that means loneliness, her memories being her companions.
Rupert Goold makes interesting choices with filming her, especially during the heavy pressure cooker concert scenes in London. He uses long takes for those first few concerts, as if he’s aware of his audiences in theaters. We’re watching for either Judy or Zellweger to slip up, marveling when she slays one of her classics. Subsequent concert scenes, when both character and actress relax enough to be themselves on stage, have more cuts. Those cuts also try to signal that this becomes less about Judy and more about the audiences watching. Goold also presents us, one can argue, the saddest film in the 21st century version of technicolor. What’s more commendable here, of course, is Zellweger’s performance, one of the many talented actresses in her generation. She doesn’t totally capture Garland’s vocals but she’s much better at evoking the star’s expressiveness and physicality.
And Zellweger gets enough to do to in this version of Judy, someone pretending everything is all right. But I keep returning to her younger self who has to hear how she’s not a a pretty girl. Judy portrays its protagonist as, apparently, MGM’s only victim, experiencing a patriarchal world in total, absolute isolation. The other characters, some more complex than others, seem as if they came into this world as adults. The only other character with complexity is Dan (Andy Nyman), who opens up to her about being gay. I would have loved to hear or see Lorna or Liza (Gemma Lee-Deveraux) experiences compared to hers. To see a counterpoint to Judy’s experience who faced similar or different childhoods and how they grew up. There’s a lot of skill in this character study but one character can’t hold up hollow, fictionalized worlds.
For more information on Judy go to https://www.judythefilm.com/.
- Release Date: 9/27/2019