- Katie Bell
Judy - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
For many years, movie studios made millions off Judy Garland through exploitation and over-work. Thank goodness Universal Studios had the decency to make a biopic about her exploitation...and profit from it.
Yes. I just watched Judy. Yes, I am feeling cynical about it. This film didn't have the approval of Liza Minelli or Lorna Luft, and yet it was created anyway. But being a bit of a Garland fan, I couldn't help but indulge in seeing this picture in the cinema. And after walking away, I feel that any human with a mild interest in The Wizard of Oz and Garland's life probably found this film quite satisfying. I, on the other hand, don't know how I feel.
Let me preface this review by saying that the performances are certainly good. Finn Wittrock is a suitable Mickey Deans and I personally really enjoyed seeing Bella Ramsey in the role of Lorna Luft. Renee Zellweger delivers a really excellent performance; it won't be surprising if she is nominated for an Oscar. Be that as it may, I'm not sure that this is the best portrayal of Garland to ever grace our stages or screens. Zellweger doesn't look like Garland, although I will admit, that occasionally, with the right angle and lighting, audiences are tricked into believing that she does. Additionally, if you choose to listen to this film, with your eyes closed, there are only rare moments when Zellweger totally and completely sounds like Garland. I will say this though, I was dreading the musical numbers in this film. I thought that they would be the worst moments, because I thought that they might just be the moments when it was the most obvious that we were watching an actress. However, I have to eat my words. When Zellweger is delivering musical numbers, yeah, it still doesn't sound quite right, but it's the closest that we get and the movements and gestures that she uses help to sell it.
The real area in which this film misses the mark, was in the way Garland was written onto the page. Garland was known for her humour. She was famous for it. She was quick and she was witty and she loved to tell a dirty joke. She also wasn't afraid of a swearword...unlike the patrons of the 1:30pm showing of Judy at the Dendy theatre. At one stage, during a live performance that isn't going to plan, Garland says...the "f" word. GASP! Well, I didn't...but the rest of the audience in the cinema did. This is the only time this portrayal of Garland swears and it is SHOCKING to most of the cinema-goers. Obviously, they were expecting her to bop the mean audience members on the nose, a la cowardly lion-style, circa 1939. I digress. This film is obviously made for audiences filled with retirees. While I wasn't expecting a biopic with R-rated language, I was hoping for a bit more of the banter and liberal jokes that Garland was known for. If you've read any Garland memoir, you'll know what I'm talking about.
This film not only is somewhat lacking in Garland's humour, it focuses really heavily on her loneliness.There is a quote that is attributed to Garland that goes, "In the silence of night I have often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people". This is what director Rupert Goold emanates through many of the film's key scenes. There are shots where Judy is positioned in the centre of the frame, that make her appear isolated and alone; there are references to her receiving plenty of fan mail, but no one waiting at the stage door; and then of course, there is that shot of her in her dressing room, surrounded by too many flowers to count, but completely alone. The quote is never mentioned in the film, but I felt its presence and I didn't mind it. I just wish it had been balanced out by some happier moments.
(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH)
Let's talk about the ending. Those last moments of the film. You've probably seen the ending already. It was in the trailer after all. Garland looks at her audience and calls, "You won't forget me, will you? Promise you won't". Fade to black. Beautiful I think to myself. A tear rolls down my cheek. What a poignant finish. Then, as is often the case in biopics, they tell us what happened next. Text appears on the screen and informs viewers that Judy died six months later. Really? Why? Was it not obvious? That really poignant moment is suddenly erased and replaced with a "let's state the obvious" moment. You probably think I'm being picky. But I don't mind. I won't sugarcoat it. It was unnecessary and I hated it. This film has many moments of subtlety, that work really well. This isn't one of them.
This movie really walks a tightrope of trying to please viewers. Obviously, I didn't know Garland personally. She died in another country, a month before my mother was born. But I have read about her. A lot. The version of Judy that I saw today, was vanilla in comparison to the one I've heard about. She lacked in humour, and intense outburts, and jealousy, and moments of absolute ecstasy with her children. I feel they tried to deliver a PG-13 Garland for elderly audiences of fans, and I ended up walking out of the cinema, thinking to myself that was nice, but that wasn't Judy.
So, should you see it? I mean Zellweger's good, and I'm always down for some Lyanna Mormont...erm...sure.