Desperate to make money to support her two young children, Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) agrees to go to London to perform in a five-week run of sell-out concerts. It has been thirty years since her breakthrough role in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and with her voice faltering, Judy is unsure how much she has left to give.
The visually arresting and heart-rending opening scene of ‘Judy’ begins with a close-up of the face of a young Judy Garland (newcomer Darci Shaw). Soon, it is revealed that she is on the set of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and as she walks through it, entranced, so too are we reminded of the dream factory that is Hollywood. Yet there’s a dark undercurrent to the scene as producer-mogul Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) explains to the teenager there are many other prettier girls than her out there who he could invest in instead, but they don’t have her voice, so is she willing to do anything it takes to become a star? From there, ‘Judy’ proceeds to further lift the curtain on that Golden Age of filmmaking as flashbacks reveal the horrific treatment the child actor is subdued to. Judy is put on a relentless schedule, forbidden from eating certain foods, forced to take diet and sleeping pills, her childhood effectively taken away.
It’s no wonder she grows into this deeply anxious insomniac, yet her talent is incredible and love for her children undeniable. With a fiery and fabulous personality that all are drawn too, Judy struggles to maintain a sense of humanity as everyone around her keeps taking all she has to give. They dehumanise her, treating her like a commodity rather than a person. And in portraying all this complexity, Renée Zellweger is mesmerising, looking the part and capturing all the classic actress’s expressions and quirks in a stunning tribute. When she starts singing, the screen comes alive; someone needs to just give her the Best Actress Oscar already.
By her side is Irish actress Jessie Buckley, who also gives a commendatory performance as the no-nonsense, initially cold-hearted Rosalyn Wilder. Rufus Sewell puts in a good performance as ex-husband Sidney Luft while Finn Wittrock fits the part of hubby number five Mickey Deans well; even Bella Ramsey, aka Lyanna Mormont, from ‘Game of Thrones’, pops up to give a tender performance as Judy’s daughter Lorna. Truly the backbone of the movie is Zellweger, though ‘Judy’ also integrates a deeply touching and beautiful salute to the actress’ status as a gay icon, and while the ending is cheesy, it’s the perfect fit given what preceded.
Overall, ‘Judy’ is simply marvellous and as good as last year’s ‘A Star is Born’ (ironic, of course, given Garland starred in the 1954 version of the narrative) or ‘La La Land’ from the year before. With a sharp and moving script, spectacular lead performance in Zellweger, and tearjerker finale, it’s a must for all movies of classical Hollywood cinema. With its incisive commentary on the movie- and most specifically star-making industry, it should put up a decent fight on the road to the Oscars.