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TIFF 2019 Review: Judy – “Renée Zellweger is simply transcendent as Judy”

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Image Courtesy of TIFF

Judy Garland is unmistakably an icon.  She is known to most for being Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, but she had a career spanning over forty years, despite passing away at only age 47.  As is no large secret, Garland suffered through much of her life with addiction and her later years were particularly conflicted.  This is the general focus of Rupert Goold‘s biopic, Judy.

When we first see Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) she is performing at a small venue for the tune of $150.  Her children in tow, she is broke and homeless after being unable to pay her hotel bills.  Eventually, she drops her son and daughter off at her ex-husband Sidney Luft’s (Rufus Sewell) house out of desperation that they have somewhere to stay.  Reluctant to leave her children, Judy signs on to do a series of shows in London to try and make enough money to reunite her family and pay off her debts.

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However, by this time Judy’s addictions and mental anguish have taken their toll.  We learn through flashbacks that her mother had a grand hand in starting her on pills – some to stay awake, some to fall asleep – early on in life.  The studio head at MGM, Louis B Mayer, controlled every little thing she did right down to the food she ate.  All of this influences what she is to become, an undeniable talent, yet unreliable, and troubled.  When she’s on her game she’s unstoppable, but she’s often under the influence and unable to perform.  Even her relationship with her eventual fifth husband Mickey (Finn Wittrock) becomes tumultuous and a source of pain.  It all converges to reveal a Judy Garland that is fighting to go on.

As a straight biopic, Judy is solid, if not formulaic in its approach but there is so much material that could comprise a Garland picture that it was wise to concentrate on just one narrow time period. Details of known performances and interviews were taken into account when making the film and the authenticity shows. Goold’s decision to end the film before the eventual demise of the star is a good one as the final moments of the film instead leave a positive lasting impression.

It’s Renée Zellweger’s performance that is the reason to watch, and it is a true joy to see her back on the big screen.  After taking a hiatus from 2010 to 2016, this is the film that will launch her back into awards contention and is a blatant reminder that she is an Academy Award winner (Cold Mountain).  From the way she smiles to the way she holds the microphone cord, to the sadness behind her eyes, she is simply transcendent as Judy.  And yes, she does sing and she pretty well nails that too.

Fans of Garland’s will surely be satisfied by the fact that the icon is portrayed with respect and compassion.  It doesn’t gloss over the messy parts of her life, yet is sympathetic and respectful.  Most importantly, Judy leaves the audience with a feel of her important legacy.

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