A Devastating Portrait of a Broken Soul, ‘Judy’ Is a Beautiful Tribute to the Legendary Superstar
Winter 1968 and showbiz legend Judy Garland arrives in Swinging London to perform a five-week sold-out run at The Talk of the Town. It has been 30 years since she shot to global stardom in The Wizard of Oz, but if her voice has weakened, its dramatic intensity has only grown. As she prepares for the show, battles with management, charms musicians and reminisces with friends and adoring fans, her wit and warmth shine through. Even her dreams of love seem undimmed as she embarks on a whirlwind romance with Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband. Featuring some of her best-known songs, the film celebrates the voice, the capacity for love, and the sheer pizzazz of “the world’s greatest entertainer.”
Director: Rupert Goold
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell
Country: United States
Runtime: 118 minutes
When it comes to musical films, Hollywood musicals are probably the most famous. After all, the genre originated from Hollywood. And among all the stars that have ever graced the screen, perhaps none have shined as brightly as Judy Garland, one of the most iconic musical performers of all time. Already performing on stage at the age of two, Garland’s claim to fame was when she was cast as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, where she sang one of the most famous songs in cinema, “Over the Rainbow”.
Born in 1922, Garland spent over 40 of her 47 years performing. The biopic Judy focuses on the last year of her life when she performed in Britain, broke, separated from her children and struggling with her drug addictions. While Judy is only released in Singapore in 2020, its original release was in 2019, which was a significant year for the film. 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Garland’s untimely death and the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.
As a fan of the musical genre, Judy was a film I just had to watch, despite knowing its heavy topic would bring me to tears. And even though I already knew about her story and how the film would end, I still found myself profoundly moved by the time the credits rolled. Judy pays tribute to this legendary superstar’s beautiful yet tragic life, which ended too early. Her legacy, however, lives on.
Besides giving a layered performance full of depth and emotion, Renée Zellweger also undergoes a physical transformation to look like Garland, with a prosthetic nose, coloured contacts, a wig, and even fake teeth. Zellweger also nails Garland’s mannerisms, from her slouched posture to the way she holds the microphone with her right hand and the cord in her left. The attention paid to these details allows Zellweger to embody Garland’s spirit and more importantly, her fragility.
We are given glimpses of her different sides, the glamourous Judy belting out classics on stage, the loving mother who just wants to provide a proper home for her children, and the broken woman who craves love and warmth. Zellweger manages to deliver all these facets of Garland’s life, with each nuance showing in her poignant performance, and it cuts deep.
One thing you would expect from a biopic of Judy Garland is the musical numbers. Garland’s voice is so iconic it would be impossible for Zellweger to mimic it, and the film makes the right choice not to use Garland’s actual voice with Zellweger lip-syncing to it. Instead, Zellweger sings all the songs herself, and her soulful renditions have a unique flair that complements perfectly with her performance.
Yet my favourite moment in the film isn’t any of her fabulous stage moments, but a more private scene with Judy interacting with two gay fans. This scene, despite being fictional, has a deeper meaning than it seems. Judy Garland wasn’t just a performer, actress and mother – she was also a gay icon, particularly in the 50s and 60s.
Judy pays tribute to this with a quiet and heartfelt scene where she is invited by two gay fans (Stan and Dan) to their apartment for a meal. What makes the scene so heartwarming is that it starts out with Judy being lonely and looking for company, but it ends with her being the source of warmth and comfort to her fans. It is also an interesting parallel between Judy and her fans, both seeking to lead normal lives, but unable to due to different circumstances.
And it is here where the film succeeds as a biopic, choosing to show Garland as a normal person with her own personal problems instead of just the legend that people expect her to be. Audiences might, however, find the film slightly messy as it does cover a lot of ground throughout its runtime. From Garland’s past in Hollywood to her drug addiction, her personal relationships and her children’s lives, audiences who are not familiar with her story might feel overloaded with information, even if the major arc of the film is quite straightforward.
Nevertheless, Judy is a fitting homage to the icon in her final years, giving us a look at the broken soul that brought so much joy and happiness to the world while struggling with her own demons.
“You won’t forget me, will you?” shouts Judy to her audience in the final moments of the film.
No. We won’t.
Judy is out in cinemas now, and you can check out the trailer below.