“Judy” is a captivating film thanks to a transcendent performance from star Renée Zellweger.
She brings Hollywood legend Judy Garland to life with undeniable passion, wit, and charisma, and that’s just in non-musical scenes. When she performs some of Garland’s best-known songs, she carries the film to astounding heights.
What’s it about?
“Judy” takes place 30 years after “The Wizard of Oz” made Judy Garland a global superstar.
At 47, Judy still shines bright when she takes the stage. Away from the bright lights, however, she’s beyond worn out.
She just wants to be a good mom to her two youngest children, Lorna and Joey. But to support them she must keep working, and her opportunities to work are becoming scarce.
Desperate for money to pay her debts and provide a stable home for the kids, she reluctantly agrees to leave them with their father, estranged 4th ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), to perform in London, where she’s still a compelling box office draw.
The opportunity should be an exciting one. After all, it’s a chance at a comeback — her only chance, really, with most doors in Hollywood closed to her after years of notorious unreliability.
But instead, it’s terrifying to her. She knows she’s not what she once was, even if the fans in London don’t, and when she’s told her shows have all sold out, it’s just more pressure.
The audiences who fill “The Talk of the Town” nightclub expect to see “the world’s greatest entertainer.” Can Judy be what they want her to be one more time? And if she can rise to that challenge, what will it cost her this time?
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Cautionary tale revisited
Inspired by the stage show “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter, “Judy” examines this specific period in the life of Judy Garland as a kind of microcosm for her entire life.
The script from Tom Edge (“The Crown”) has it all: whirlwind romance and heartbreak, the physical and emotional toll of stardom, the hunger for real connection, the talent, the tantrums, the mercurial moods, the fragility, and the fear.
It also provides context, something Quilter’s show does not provide. The film’s scenes depicting young Judy around the time of “The Wizard of Oz” are some of the most heartbreaking and harrowing in the entire film.
Zellweger, in turn, takes Edge’s script and brings that vision of Judy Garland to life with the performance of a lifetime. Yes, wigs, make-up, and wardrobe go a long way here in transforming Zellweger into Garland — don’t be surprised to see this one up for the big awards for make-up and costumes next year.
However, it’s Zellweger’s wit, presence, and talent both as an actress and a singer that will sell audiences on her being Judy. It’s a complex performance, depicting both fierce strength of will and emotional frailty with style and verve.
And then there’s Zellweger’s work with a microphone in her hand. Yes, we knew she could sing thanks to her turn in “Chicago,” but her work here sets a new career-high.
It’s not just that she nails Garland’s signature numbers. She also delivers affectation and physicality that channel the legend’s command of the stage.
“Judy” is the film the Awards Season pundits will be talking about through the end of the year, either just by itself or alongside other powerhouse lead performances that come down between now and then. Therefore, if you pay attention to such things, it’s a must-see.
In addition, it’s also a must-see for fans of Zellweger. She’s been away for a while, and “Judy” represents an incredible return to form.
Hers is an unforgettable performance that carries a very, very good film. We’ve seen Hollywood stories brought to life on screen like this one before — the formula isn’t new.
It’s what Zellweger does within the framework of that formula that’s absolute magic.
Starring Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, and Michael Gambon. Directed by Rupert Goold.
Running time 118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking