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Sunday, January 12, 2020


(Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland)

Renée Zellweger lights up this conventional biopic with a scintillating performance as the iconic singer-actress Judy Garland. (Review by Patrick Compton - 8/10)

Sometimes a casting decision comes out as miraculously right, for a lot of reasons, some of them serendipitous. Renée Zellweger’s role as Judy Garland is one of those.

Zellweger, who was one of Hollywood’s most distinguished stars for many years – from Jerry Maguire to Chicago to Cold Mountain, and not, of course, forgetting the hugely successful Bridget Jones franchise – suddenly dropped out of sight for six years in 2010 to do a little “growing up”. “I wasn’t healthy; I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was the last thing on my list of priorities,” she told interviewers.

When she returned, deep into her forties, there was a new look, and there was malicious talk of plastic surgery, a burden that she handled with grace and humour. Now, with her sensational comeback performance as Judy Garland, the Texas actress has proved F Scott Fitzgerald wrong when he said “there are no second acts in American lives”.

The film, ably directed by Rupert Goold, has been adapted by Tom Edge from Peter Quilter’s stage play End of the Rainbow.

In 1968, less than a year before she died at the age of 49, Garland – desperate for money – travelled to London to play a five-week run at London’s famous Talk of the Town nightclub. At the time she was virtually homeless and unable to properly look after the two young children she had with her third husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell). To make matters worse, she was suffering from a career-long addiction to pills, stress, depression and insomnia. Vulnerable was truly her middle name.

The movie begins with a seemingly washed-up Garland ferrying her kids to and fro back home before she gets the Talk of the Town gig in the UK, a country that still regarded her as a megastar. The concerts, as one might expect, are hit and miss, depending on her mood and the drugs she was taking.

 The present action is splintered by flashbacks to her young self (Darcy Shaw) around the time of The Wizard of Oz, when it becomes all too clear how she was exploited by Hollywood, principally by loathsome producer Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery).

Zellweger dominates the movie as the great singer-star on the skids, guilty about her relationship with her young children (there is only one brief, almost throwaway scene with her most famous daughter, Liza Minnelli) and seemingly congenitally unable to find any kind of happiness or stability in her increasingly fractious life, despite a deceptively upbeat beginning to the relationship with her fifth husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).

The movie, then, has a sad melancholy underbelly but Zellweger inhabits her role so passionately and accurately (she sings all the songs herself) that a relatively conventional biopic is invested with a kind of dark glory.

It terms of performances, it’s hard to see beyond Zellweger, but there is a memorable incident when Garland is befriended by a couple of gay London fans for a night in which your heart might melt, an experience that is replicated for the movie’s effectively melodramatic climax as she struggles to complete her most famous song, Over the Rainbow. There is also a fine, sensitive performance by English actress Jessie Buckley as Garland’s assistant.

The film has been a huge success in the United States and elsewhere and it will surprise no-one that Zellweger has already won a Golden Globe for best actress and will surely be nominated for an Oscar.

Judy is currently showing at The Pavilion, Gateway Mall and Watercrest Mall. - Patrick Compton