Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Finn Wittrock
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… an engrossing and timely biopic spearheaded by a transcendent Zellweger performance.
The Wizard of Oz is a timeless adventure whose message of optimism speaks as relevantly today as it had in 1939, and it has stood the test of time like no other film before it.
Owing to its success is the ingénue Dorothy; a role made famous by actress-singer Judy Garland. An extraordinarily talented actress whose sunny, all-American public persona hid a lifetime of abuse brought about by a misogynistic Hollywood system.
Garland’s efforts to re-establish her dimming spotlight in 1960s London are at the centre of Judy and are brought to life by a mesmerising performance from Renée Zellweger.
Perceived as unreliable by the once adoring eyes of the American public, Garland relocates to London due to a looming custody battle and a desire to provide her kids with a degree of normalcy never received during her own childhood. The seeds of neglect festering since childhood haunt Garland into her forties, with Judy director Rupert Goold profoundly interjecting scenes involving her mistreatment as a child-star to show how her grief manifested into adulthood.
Garland’s fame is driven by both her talent on-screen and her exploits off-screen. Relying on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol to calm her anxieties, Garland’s severe emotional fragility is matched by her emaciated physicality; right or wrong, it is an appearance which Zellweger commits to achieving.
As reliant as Garland was with silencing her demons through substance, so too was she infamous for seeking out relationships as temporary relief – falling just as quickly in love as she did out of it.
Goold never fails to miss an opportunity to make a pointed message about inequality and uses Garland’s life to draw parallels with today’s #metoo climate. It proves an earnest attempt to remain current but too often winds up removing the viewer from the film due to its blatant application. He is guiltiest of this when introducing themes of homophobia into an already busy film and giving nothing but lean scraps for supporting characters to chew on.
The retro set-design and inspired costuming allow Judy to do a respectable job in transporting the viewer back to the 1960s. This ultimately enables production design to convey history, with the looming rise of hippiedom and Beatlemania correlating with Garland’s dissipating stardom.
There is much to be said about Zellweger’s performance saving Judy from the doldrums of mediocrity. From her sharp-wit to her captivating charm over a crowd, Zellweger (who showed she had singing chops in Chicago) manages to masterfully embody Garland’s electrifying-show-stopper performance style. Zellweger’s ability to capture not just the razzle and dazzle of Garland, but emote her heartbreaking struggle with profound levels of vulnerability, enables the actress to slide into the role as comfortably as Dorothy’s sparkling ruby slippers.
It is easy to look back on the lives of actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood with a sentimental gaze. Where the likes of My Week with Marilyn and Stan & Ollie delivered similar sagas about the fall of stars from yesteryear, Judy acknowledges the troubling experiences of a Hollywood icon in an engrossing and timely biopic spearheaded by a transcendent Zellweger performance.