The release of Judy has not received much fanfare, in stark contrast to last year’s musical Oscar bait, A Star Is Born, which incidentally once starred Judy Garland herself. Instead, the release of Rupert Goold’s introspective biopic, an adaptation of the play End Of The Rainbow, chronicling the end of Judy Garland’s life, has felt distinctly underwhelming despite Zellweger’s powerhouse performance.
The film can be accused of being cookie-cutter at times, following conventions of biopics, favourable and sympathetic to the star Judy. It presents her as the victim of the Hollywood studio system, showing us the palpable vulnerability of the late icon in the struggles caused by her young stardom and the darkness it brought into her life.
Flashbacks in Judy show the careful curation and meticulous management of her life at the hands of studio executives. Providing a glimpse into the dark background behind the legendary film The Wizard Of Oz, with timely comparisons between Louis B. Mayer and Harvey Weinstein being unavoidable, the flashbacks contextualise the inner strife of Judy, showing how a life within such an industry has led her to her present troubles. In spite of this, as the film shows, her compassion and softness remain, making the knowledge of her untimely death all the more painful. The brief flashbacks are beautifully utilised, aided by the enthralling talent of the young Judy actress, Darci Shaw, who is deserving of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod.
However, the undeniable heart of the film is Renée Zellweger. It cannot be overstated how good Zellweger is in this role, and if her Oscar isn’t secured already then there is something severely wrong with the world. Her performance never strays into caricature, and you feel every fall and every hurdle she faces in this film. She puts the viewer at ease in how seamlessly she channels Judy; there’s no awkward moment where the mask slips, and you truly buy into her as Judy.
The movie outside of Zellweger has its weaknesses. Jessie Buckley’s character lacks depth, feeling almost ornamental: a misuse of such a talented actress. But then again, why would we want anything to distract us from Zellweger’s transformative portrayal of the iconic actor? Clichèd sentiment perhaps, but in comparison to the prior biopics of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman this film is a revelation, a breath of fresh air in a tired genre. There is no need for pageantry as the performance speaks for itself. Every note she sings and movement she makes feel laboured and weighed down by with decades of abuse from the world, a moving portrayal of a woman who suffered so deeply at the hands of the Mayer movie machine.
In many ways, the manner in which Judy’s release has been overlooked mirrors the life of Judy Garland herself. A star of the silver screen who is often forgotten by the general public. Yes the film is safe, it doesn’t break any conventions or push the envelope, but the standard of acting and the emotionally crippling storyline are worth the price of admission tenfold.
Image credit: Pathé UK via Youtube