Judy (2019) Review
NOT QUITE OVER THE RAINBOW
The fame, the talent, and the voice of Judy Garland has become known throughout the years; a relatively iconic name that has become a household name of great actresses of old Hollywood. Of course, many knew of Garland at as a young star when she portrayed Dorothy Gale in the famous 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, which was (unto itself) a hallmark achievement in cinematic filmmaking. From there, Garland, who had signed at contract at MGM Studios, appeared in other films, including 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, 1946’s The Harvey Girls, 1948’s Easter Parade, and 1950’s Summer Stock. Later, free from her contract with MGM, Garland when onto to star in several other projects, including several singing prospects, and two of her most critically acclaimed performances in her career in 1954’s A Star is Born and 1961’s Judgement at Nuremberg; receiving award nominations for those respective roles. Unfortunately, Garland struggled with her own personal demons that plagued her for much of her life; dating all the way back to her childhood, with MGM Studio execs, including Louis B. Mayer, pressuring the young actress to early stardom and the demands needed of her in her contract with the studio. This affected her physical and mental health from her teens onward, with her self-image was influenced by film executives; pushing the star towards alcohol and substance abuse, which (in turn) polarized her financial stability and her string of failed marriages that led to her death in of an overdose at the age of 47 in 1969. Now, LD Entertainment and director Rupert Goold present a cinematic representation of the struggle of Judy Garland’s life in the movie Judy. Does this latest biopic endeavor from Hollywood captures Garland’s trials beautifully or does it struggle to embody the full extent of the famed talent’s life to its fullest potential?
In the 1960s, Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) struggles to keep her life afloat; trying to deal with her failed marriages and indulging herself with her substance abuse addiction, which has diminished her iconic talent for performance and tarnishing her reputation in the industry. Left without a home while trying to raise her children, including Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd), Judy is growing desperate, unable to make money in Los Angels due to her issues, while her ex-husband, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), is threatening to take custody of the kids. Seeking income, Judy accepts an offer for a five-week engagement at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London; taking the gig, only to be confronted with the physical and mental demands of the work when she arrives. Overseeing by assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) and repeatedly wooed over by Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), a spirited American who promises a bright future for the star, Judy struggles to remain in the right frame of mind for the shows, unable to get past her demons and show the public spotlight just how Judy Garland can be.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I really did not know much about Judy Garland’s life. Naturally, I really knew of her as Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz as she played the role incredibly well and certainly cemented herself in the age of Hollywood as a young star. I knew that she had troubles in her life and became a sort of “cautionary tale” for young acting talents in Hollywood (and the trials and tribulations) that follow, but I really didn’t know the fully extent (or full story) behind her tragic life that went on a downward spiral. I did read up on her life story after I saw Judy and it’s almost heartbreaking to be honest. It really just goes to show how much the “industry” demands from its talent and how the public eye and interest can weigh on a person’s mental psyche.
This brings me back to talking about Judy, a 2019 biographical look at the talented and iconic star. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie as it was sort of “downplayed” on a lot of the movie’s site that I occasionally check. So, it wasn’t until on my radar until I saw the film’s movie trailer back at the end of August when I went to see The Farewell at my local movie theater. Judging from the trailer alone, it looked like it was gonna be another solid biographical movie drama from Hollywood as it showcases plenty of pieces that looked quite intriguing as a way to look at a intimate portrait into Judy Garland’s life, especially the latter portion of her life. As mentioned above, I didn’t know much about Garland’s story, so I was definitely curious to see the movie, especially how Hollywood has recently done plenty of incredibly solid bio-pic dramas of late. Additionally, from the trailer alone, Zellweger looked great in the role; nailing the voice of Garland as well as the vocal singing (with the trailer showing a snipper of the actress singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”). So, I did want to see Judy when it came out, but, for some reason, the movie wasn’t released at any of my local movie theaters, so I actually had to wait until the movie got released on home release at the end of December 2019. Thus, I took the time to see the movie and able to share what I thought of Judy. What did I think of it? Well, it’s mediocre-ish. Despite a strong performance from Zellweger in the lead role as well as an interesting character to focus on, Judy is hampered by weak narrative that seems to gloss over the film’s events and secondary characters. What’s presented is okay, but nothing incredibly stellar or profound.
Judy is directed by Rupert Goold, whose previous directorial works includes such projects like True Story, The Hollow Crown, and King Charles III. Given a lot of recognizable acting talents involved on this project and being a bio-pic drama endeavor from an iconic actress / singer, Goold makes Judy her most ambitious project to date; making a large splash with this movie. To that effect, the movie is okay and does have a touch of sincerity and honesty about it, which I do commend Goold for her effort. Like that Judy Garland herself, the film isn’t perfect (as I’ll mention below), but the movie has a genuine reflection of Garland’s life; showcasing the heartache truth behind her life and the struggle she bears. Plus, as I really didn’t know much about Garland’s life (again, I did my research about her after I saw the movie), it was quite interesting to see the movie focus on this particular moment; seeing Judy Garland going to London for a singing contract at a nightclub. So, I was quite interested to see how the movie would play out, with Goold presenting Garland in a sympathetic light as a broken actress / singer talent that has a hard time of finding herself in true happiness. And, of course, the movie does feature Garland’s singing the famous Wizard of Oz song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, with Zellweger demonstrating the passion and dramatic poise in the iconic song. In addition, I did like “The Trolley Song” rendition she does.
In the presentation setting category, Judy looks like a fine movie; capturing the background aesthetics and “signs and times” of the 1960s in London (and a few pieces of Hollywood life). Thus, the various head departments of the “behind the scenes” filmmaking, including Kave Quinn (production designs), Stella Fox (set decorations), and Jany Temime (costume designs) are solid in their respective parts in making-up the visual style of the movie. The cinematography work done by Ole Bratt Birkeland is (for the most part) okay as the movie seems to hit the standards for a bio motion picture, but the singing sequences of when Zellweger’s Garland is on stage are the best, with the cinematics capturing those moments quite well. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Gabriel Yared, is general good and provides plenty of respectable composition pieces for the feature’s melodical moments, but (as whole) doesn’t really stand out and not quite as memorable.
Unfortunately, Judy does falter within its narrative execution; drawing criticism upon this biopic endeavor. How so? Well, for lack of a better terms, the movie just doesn’t go anywhere and feels a bit hollow in its overall execution. Of course, the intent for the film’s narrative is there by showcasing the latter days of Judy Garland’s life and how she struggles her past and personal issues, including substance abuse. However, the movie skims a lot of this narrative and, while it does showcase plenty of Garland’s struggles, the feature doesn’t dig deep enough to show a varnish truth behind her sad and cautionary life story. Some of this stems from Goold’s direction of the feature, which picks up at the latter portion of Garland’s life. What’s presented isn’t much and feels like there’s not to much to tell, with Goold presenting a narrative that feels very much thin and lacks the substance to take the feature to the sort of “next level”. I mean…. looking at other iconic musical artist biopic dramas that have recently come out, including Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, Judy comes up short; wanting to tell more of the strife and struggle of Judy Garland, but (under Goold’s direction) comes up empty-handed with a movie doesn’t present much.
Also, Goold lacks the sharpness and pizzazz of movie like this; finder the movie to be boring great lengths of the film’s runtime. Speaking of runtime, the movie clocks in at around 118 minutes (one hour and fifty-eight minutes) and certainly longer that it does; meandering through its story with not much zip or finesse to the feature, which (again) is part of Goold’s direction for the project. Thus, Judy has a sluggish pace for most of the runtime, especially towards the film’s first act, and has a hard time of keeping the movie exciting and engaging. It’s like one of those movies that a studio did not like and sought out to be bought by Netflix. So, Judy, to me, feels likes one of those generic Netflix movies that the streaming service heavily promotes, but doesn’t garnish much attention within its viewing experience. In a nutshell, Judy is standard bio-pic (construction and framework) that simply struggles in entice viewers with a rather boring (slightly haphazard) narrative.
Additionally, the movie’s problem also extends to the film’s script, which was penned by Tom Edge and based on both Garland’s real life as well as the stage play “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter, and (like the movie) feels a bit shallow in certain areas as it’s trying to tell a lot more than what’s presented in the film’s narrative allows. This showcases in several flashback sequences of Judy’s younger years, which shows her time at MGM studios with Louis B. Mayer sort of “coaching her” on how the young star should behave (in a sort of creepy way…. mind you). This is perhaps where the movie works the best as we (the viewer) get to see the struggle of how Judy Garland became who she is, but these flashbacks are limited and that’s a shame as these parts are the best that the movie has to offer that what’s going for majority of the feature, with Garland’s musical contract in London. Again, what’s presented showed been great, but the script skims a lot of pieces of Garland’s life during this time period, which makes several elements and side stories come up either shortchanged and inconsequential to the overall project. What do I mean? First, there is Garland’s relationship with Mickey Deans, her fifth and late husband, which is pretty skimpy in the movie and doesn’t a strong impression on the film. Another part is a scene where Garland meets two gay men, who are adoring fans of her. It’s a sincere moment that follows, with Garland interacting with the two men, but doesn’t really go anywhere and almost feels like its “shoehorned” in to pad the film’s runtime. I mean…. this scene could’ve been easily removed from Judy’s final cut and it won’t have made a difference.
What certainly is the greatest positive that the movie has to offer is the actual portrayal of Judy Garland, who is played by actress Renée Zellweger. Known for her roles in Chicago, Cold Mountain, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, captures Garland’s struggles beautifully. From the quiet and mouse-esque voice, to the facial expression, and to the heavy make-up, Zellweger certainly embodies Garland to the fullest extent and crafts the cinematic character to her performance in quite an amazing portrayal. Plus, it also helps that Zellweger can sing, which elevates the performance especially in some of the musical numbers that the movie showcases. It’s quite evident that Judy is Zellweger’s vehicle to drive and (like the character she plays) shapes the movie around her, with literally almost every scene of the movie featuring her character. Thus, Zellweger carries the film’s weight on her shoulder and, while the film does struggle (as mentioned above), she certainly is the star of the feature and deserves all the praise for her role in Judy. As a side-note, young actress Darci Shaw (The Bay and The Irregulars) plays the part of the younger Judy Garland through the series of flashbacks in the movie and do have to say that Shaw does a good job in the role.
Majority of the secondary roles in the movie, including actor Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story and The Big Short) as Judy’s fifth and last husband Mickey Deans, actor Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale and The Illusionist) as Judy’s third husband Sidney Luft, actor Richard Cordery (Dickensian and Madame Bovary) as producer / co-founder of MGM Studios Louis B. Mayer, actor Michael Gambon (Harry Potter film series and Layer Cake) as nightclub theater owner Bernard Delfont, actress Gemma-Leah Devereux (The Tudors and Citizen Lane) as Judy’s eldest daughter Liza Minnelli, and actress Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones and Hilda) and actor Lewin Lloyd (His Dark Materials and Taboo) as Judy and Sidney’s children, Lorna and Joey Luft, are important characters in Garland’s life, but are presented in Judy with mediocre results. That’s not to say that the acting talents that play given solid performances (I think that they all do), but the movie’s direction and script handling doesn’t give these particular individuals time to grow and become rounded characters, despite many of them play a part in Judy Garland’s life. Thus, all of these characters get shortchanged and come up a empty-handed for the most part in Judy’s runtime.
The rest of the movie’s players, including actor Royce Pierreson (Wanderlust and Line of Duty) as Burt Rhodes, actress Jessie Buckley (Chernobyl and Fargo) as Rosalyn Wilder, actor Andy Nyman (Wanderlust and Sarah & Duck) as Dan, actor Daniel Cerqueira (The Woman in Black and Radiator) as Stan, actor John Dagleish (Christopher Robin and Lark Rise to Candleford) as Lonnie Donegan, and actor Gus Barry (Hetty Feather and Deadly Intent) as Mickey Rooney are in minor supporting roles. In this category, these characters are fine, with the acting talents that play them are good, and fill out the rest of Judy’s character lineup. Although, I do question some of these characters being presented in the movie as some feel a little bit “shoehorned” into the movie, without great context to the overall narrative being told.
The tragic life of famed actress / singer Judy Garland is on full-display in the movie Judy. Director Rupert Goold’s latest film examines the iconic star through a cinematic lens; presenting a narrative that looks at the star’s latter years in the UK as she reflects upon her life and the struggles that she bares. Despite a strong and solid performance from Zellweger and an interesting story of Garland latter years, the movie itself struggles to find a proper theatrical footing; losing itself within its bland direction, empty / shortchanged narrative as well as its many thinly sketched secondary / supporting players. To me, this movie okay-ish, but a bit of letdown for me. Of course, it was quite interesting to see Zellweger act (and sing) in the role of which she gave a terrific performance, but the movie was quite shortchanged on many things and left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Again, the film kind of felt like one of the movies that would’ve been sold off to Netflix by major studios. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is suitable “Rent It” as it should be seeing, but just don’t think it’s a definitive project on Garland’s life. So, I’ll also add a “iffy choice” into the mix. You also might have set your expectations a bit low (sad to say). In the end, despite an interesting premise and showcasing the vulnerable state of prominent star in Hollywood (definitely a commentary message is there about child actors), Judy is a beautiful, but a shortchanged and standard look into the famous talent of Judy Garland; a motion picture that doesn’t quite go over the rainbow.
3.0 Out of 5 (Rent It / Iffy Choice)
Released On: October 4th, 2019
Reviewed On: January 7th, 2020
Judy is 118 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking