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Judy Movie Review

Judy (2019) movie poster Judy

Theatrical Release: September 27, 2019 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Rupert Goold / Writers: Tom Edge (screenplay); Peter Quilter (stage play End of the Rainbow)

Cast: Renée Zellweger (Judy Garland), Jessie Buckley (Rosalyn Wilder), Finn Wittrock (Mickey Deans), Rufus Sewell (Sid Luft), Michael Gambon (Bernard Delfont), Richard Cordery (Louis B. Mayer), Royce Pierreson (Burt Rhodes), Darci Shaw (Young Judy), Andy Nyman (Dan), Daniel Cerquiera (Stan), Bella Ramsey (Lorna Luft), Lewin Lloyd (Joey Luft), Tom Durant-Pritchard (Ken Frisch), John Dagliesh (Lonnie Donegan), Adrian Lukis (Dr. Hargreaves), Gemma-Leah Devereux (Liza Minnelli), Gus Barry (Mickey Rooney)


At 50, blue-eyed, blonde-haired Renée Zellweger might not be the most obvious choice
to play brown-haired, brown-eyed Judy Garland, who lived to 47, in a conventional biopic. Fortunately, though, Judy, adapted from Peter Quilter's stage play End of the Rainbow, is not your conventional biopic and it's tough to imagine anyone giving it what Zellweger does.

Directed by Rupert Goold (True Story) and adapted for the screen by British TV vet Tom Edge ("The Crown", "Lovesick"), Judy focuses on the final chapter of Garland's life. Broke, uninsurable, and essentially homeless, 46-year-old Garland reluctantly parts with her two young children to perform a tour in England, where she is evidently still beloved for her lifetime of film acting, largely in musicals.

Renée Zellweger stars as Judy Garland in Rupert Goold's stage-adapted biopic "Judy."

Middle-aged Garland is not the doe-eyed teenager the world fell in love with in The Wizard of Oz. She is a big consumer of alcohol and pills and though her love for her children is clear, her string of four failed marriages has left her damaged and less than dependable.

Judy places all the responsibility for the way Garland is on the industry that raised her. The daughter of vaudevillians, Garland first appeared on stage at age two and never really stopped performing. The film dabbles in flashbacks to demonstrate how the young, fragile actress was handled by authority figures. MGM head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) comes off particularly atrocious, as he dresses down the teen starlet, always in the middle of scenic, iconic Wizard of Oz sets.

Mayer and his studio bet on Garland over thousands of other hopefuls who could only dream of playing Dorothy Gale. But instead of attending to her well-being, the executive apparently preferred to fill her with doubt, fear, and dread. Where modern-day studio execs have fallen from grace over preying on bodies, Mayer evidently preyed on Garland's mind and soul, all the while giving off to us the vibes of a grandfather who secretly molests his grandkids.

"Judy" dramatizes Judy Garland's (Renée Zellweger) fifth and final marriage, to young smooth-talker Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).

The bulk of the film, though, is set in the '60s, a time when Garland is living out of hotels until they realize she can't afford it. The English people overseeing the tour (including Michael Gambon as impresario Bernard Delfont) are cautiously optimistic that Garland can still put on a good show.
And even with minimal rehearsal, she can, though the results of the tour are decidedly mixed at best, as Garland's demon-wrestling extends her reputation for unreliability.

In addition, Garland's fifth and final marriage to young, smooth talking Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) plays out before our eyes, with us and everyone around Garland seeing it destined to fail.

Though she starred in the Oscar-winning 2002 musical Chicago, Zellweger is not principally known for her singing. But she is more than up to the film's considerable demands in this regard, convincing as both a show-stopper and an artist who has lost her touch.

There is added weight in the casting. Zellweger may not have entered the business as a child, but she's been around since her early twenties and has undoubtedly hit a rough patch in recent years, with her biggest headlines being ones about how plastic surgery has rendered her unrecognizable. The young Garland's appearance is of regular concern to her handlers; she is not allowed to even take a bite of a burger on her staged-for-photos "date" with Mickey Rooney. And after a fruitful stint on Hollywood's A-list, Zellweger's filmography has dried up, with a third Bridget Jones movie and little else to show for the last ten years. That makes this a potential comeback vehicle for her, but whether or not that happens, it's a tour-de-force performance certain to rank among the year's best. The film feels a bit light and not extraordinary enough to compete for many honors outside of the Best Actress category. But it derives plenty of power from Zellweger's turn alone, which anchored to Garland's own interesting life makes this a film to see this fall.

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Reviewed October 16, 2019.

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