Renée Zellweger proved she was a star in Cold Mountain many moons ago, but I’ve been waiting for a film to come along that really showcases her top-billing unique talents: Judy is it. It takes guts to take up the mantle of a star like Judy Garland, one of the most talented people in all of show business, but Zellweger rises to the occasion and then some.
It’s not an easy ask, either from an emotional perspective. Garland’s life is full of constant sorrow; it’s a heartbreaking tale of how Hollywood can spit people out as easily as it can chew them. When one of Garland’s children in the film sees her about to take a pill and asks her “don’t go to sleep now,” you know you better buckle up for a tear-jerker. But without missing a beat, Judy replies “these are the other ones,” which equally sets you up for the full Judy Garland treatment.
Her on-screen and real-life rapier wit is thankfully matched due to screenwriter Tom Edge’s efforts and Zellweger’s ensuing metamorphosis. This is an unsung era of Garland’s life that deserves to be told in a humanizing way, but naturally, we are going to get some cuts of her younger life: the “Oz” years, perhaps through Meet Me in St. Louis, that audiences will want to see. Yes, you will get one and a half renditions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but that’s not what Judy is about. At least, not entirely.
If you haven’t heard of Rupert Goold that makes sense, as he’s a bonafide English theatre savant. Coming out of Judy I frantically looked up who was responsible for directing it, and after looking at Goold’s resume, nodded my head in affirmation. This is a production in more ways than one, which includes actual stage productions galore and a certain way about it that feels classical: how appropriate for a film about a star who had a penchant for vaudevillian entertainment, among many other talents.
Judy can be slow going, especially when other cast members aren’t ready to meet Zellweger’s imposing and electrifying presence, but the focus stays on Garland her pain throughout without losing track of the core message. The subtle soundtrack, which isn’t too saccharine (just enough to remind you of a bygone romanticized era), reinforces that feeling of loneliness.
It’s about time Judy Garland got a big-budget biopic. While we’ll likely see a film about her younger years in due time (we’ll never forget about you, Judy), Goold and Zellweger’s efforts serve as a definitive melancholy bookend to her life and career.