STARS: Renee Zellweger, Darei Shaw, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell
DIRECTOR: Rupert Goold
I've always been fond of Renee. She won me over in Bridget Jones' Diary. In Jerry Maguire, she had me at hello. A high point was her 2004 Oscar win for Cold Mountain. Then she took a six year hiatus from the acting biz. Since returning, she did a couple more Bridget Jones flicks. I didn't see them. I thought it was a regression. She was really getting typecast. She needed a good meaty role that was worthy of her true acting chops. So finally we have Judy--based on the play End Of The Rainbow by Peter Quilter.
The film focuses on a drug addled Judy Garland in decline, trying to make a comeback with a sold out five week stint at The Talk of the Town in London in 1969. It was make or break time. She had to leave her young kids behind. All the more reason to keep hitting the booze and popping those pills.
Judy flashes back and forth from that scenario to the teenage Judy Garland prepping for her role in The Wizard of Oz--manipulated and molested and put on a forced diet by studio head Louis B. Mayer. Initiated into the world of drug use at a tender age.
Renee Zellweger inhabits her character in a way that is downright scary. It is a bravura performance. On the other hand, there's a disconnect with the actress chosen to play the young Judy, newcomer (this is her second ever role) Darei Shaw. She doesn't look much like the young Judy Garland. She has the vulnerability of the young Judy, and maybe that's all director Rupert Goold was going for. But she lacks the fresh-faced girl next door quality that served the teenage Judy Garland so well in The Wizard of Oz.
There's a lot to like and appreciate about Judy. Zellweger does all of her own singing. It doesn't matter so much whether she sounds a lot like the real McCoy--what's impressive is that she's a pretty darn good singer in her own right. Add some flashy chorus girl production numbers and a captivating soundtrack from Gabriel Yared, and it had me grinning throughout. Yes, I smile, even when the story is sad. I'm smiling because of the brilliance of the artistry I'm witnessing.
Zellweger is almost assuredly a lock for an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She's got my vote!
Darn, it's so much more fun to write our separate reviews when Tim and I disagree. 'Fraid not, this time. I knew I was in for a treat when the 11:30 am show was packed to the gills with Garland fans. I was lucky to get a seat!
So I guess the new trend for Oscar winners is to pick a part that brings back to life a tragically gifted singer who died too young. Rami Malek did it last year with Freddy Mercury. Renee Zellweger is doing it again this year with Judy Garland. Both actors literally became their legends. From looking like them, to imitating their exact movements on stage, both Malek and Zellweger were breathtakingly accurate. I predict that history will repeat itself at the 2020 Academy Awards show.
I read somewhere that the real Lorna Luft has opted not to see the movie of her mom. I don't blame her. It's painfully realistic. But unlike most films about addicted artists, Garland comes off loveable. In a desperately needy way. And the flashbacks make us even more sympathetic to her predestined drug use. Watching the evil way Louis B Mayer manipulates young Judy makes Harvey Weinstein's actions pale by comparison. (not really.)
If I had to criticize something about this movie (and I'm grasping at straws here), I might pare down some of the musical numbers. But that last one? Better bring a box of Kleenex!