‘Judy’ is set where the rainbow ends. Moving between the1960s and her yellow bricked past on ‘The Wizard of Oz‘, singing star Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) is now the adult victim of her choices. Without enough money to look after herself or her children, she is presented with a silver-lined ultimatum. Either tour in London (which will pay her handsomely) or descend into poverty by staying in the U.S.
With no money left to fend off the custodial prowlings of her ex-husband Sid (Rufus Sewell), Judy reluctantly takes the British gig. However, will London be the making of or the breaking of her fragile heart?
... carries a singularly, transformative performance which blasts through any other consideration.
BBC Films have a strong track record to sincerely-mounted biographies. From their recently charming ‘Stan & Ollie‘ to their sublime ‘A Poet In New York‘, their productions have always been laced with strong performances and well-constructed storylines – and ‘Judy’ is no exception. Again on a visibly underfed diet, ‘Judy’ is another ambitious BBC addition, however, this time, it also carries a singularly, transformative performance which blasts through any other consideration.
Renée Zellweger is Judy Garland. From her spoken voice to her singing, to the husky, hunch-back gaze that she pierces you with through pencil-lined eyelids, Renée Zellweger’s transformation as ‘Judy’ is total. As visibly emaciated as she is permanently made-up, her Judy is addicted to a non-stop diet of uppers and downers, none of which can quiet the clicking heels of her tormented past. Continually flashing-back to a cross-roads moment on a Los Angeles film lot, studio boss Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) plays her munificent devil-in-waiting. Painting her future in stark, yellow bricked alternatives, Judy takes Mayer’s one-sided bargain but it has life-changing consequences.
So when, years later and already scarred by its impact, London promoter Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) offers Judy the chance to start over, she reluctantly takes his proferred hand. Whilst markedly different to Mayer’s loco parentis, and with Delfont not intent on raping her talents for profit, things would seem to be different for Judy. However, even with the ink dry, an eclipsing shadow has followed: her volatile reputation. Shaped like a pétard that promises to hoist her to even loftier heights, her expectant microphone becomes both ravager and redeemer. Petulant and pathetic until it pierces her initial stage fright, Judy’s ageing gazelle jumps out of her own headlights and finally into glorious song.
With minder Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) and new love interest Mickey (Finn Wittrock) waiting in the wings, London, if not the world, seems to love her again. Buoyed once more by being the toast of the town, the tonic of mass adulation would seem to be the only effective salve to what ails her.
And yet amongst all the well-wisher flowers back-stage, Judy’s craned cigarette smoke cuts a different performance. Riven with inner loneliness, she instead looks for solace in the constant attentions of two gay, stage-door devotees. Welcoming her back to their digs, in one of ‘Judy’s’ many tear-jerking scenes, her gaping sadness even then becomes too much for them to bear.
So, lost between her ‘one-hour-a-night’ performances as everyone’s ‘Judy Garland’, Judy’s grown-up Frances Ethel Gumm slumps like Marion Crane on her own bathroom tiles. Floored by yet another romantic disappointment, Judy the-girl-who-only-wanted-to-be-loved is taken again for a pawn in another man’s plans.
Ultimately closing on a redemptively tragic performance that will inescapably tighten your throat and bring gulping tears to your eyes, Renée Zellweger’s transformation as ‘Judy’ is a complete one. Elevating the film’s indifferent impact with a perfectly pitched of piece of dead air, the film deploys its final piece of emotional contrivance – but it doesn’t matter now. It’s too late. With Renée Zellweger’s smudged mascara and cracked vocal hooks already inside you, you’ll be a blubbing, uncontrollable mess anyway.