When I heard that a biopic focusing on the life of Judy Garland was in the works, my initial reaction was, “Wait, there isn’t one already?”
I had that reaction because the name Judy Garland is one that pretty much everybody recognizes. Even kids in my generation have most likely heard of her, even if they don’t know who she is off the top of their head. Garland is Hollywood royalty. From starring as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” to her illuminous career as a singer, Garland earned her spot among the Hollywood greats.
“Judy,” directed by Rupert Goold, tells the story of Garland (Renée Zellweger) in the years prior to her death by accidental overdose of barbiturates at 47 years old. Garland is a mother stuck in a lengthy legal battle with Sidney Huft, one of her ex-husbands, for custody of her children.
She’s struggling to make a living off of the acting jobs she gets, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for her to provide a stable life for her kids. On top of that, she has a problem with alcohol, which affects both her on-stage performances and how her children view her.
For the most part “Judy” is a formulaic biopic that doesn’t really distinguish itself from most others.
The failure to really stand out is a result of the film never really grabbing its audience. The viewers care about Garland as an idea, but not really as a character. Since the name Judy Garland is attached to this character, the audience wants to care about her and the struggles she is going through, but for most of the film’s runtime it ends up being a lifeless depiction that fails to hook audiences. It presents a story of a famous individual struggling to connect with her children, which has been seen and done before in other films, such as “Vox Lux” earlier this year.
With a story like this, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd and give the audience a reason to be interested. That’s not to say that Garland’s life wasn’t difficult, it just is hard to produce a fresh story out of it.
With that being said, the film does pull itself together in its final act. In the last 20 minutes or so, Garland begins to come to terms with the state of her family life and her career. She admits she cannot provide a stable home for her kids, and she realizes her career isn’t what it used to be. It’s in these moments that “Judy” provides multiple legitimately emotional sequences.
There’s a sequence towards the film’s conclusion where she goes on stage to sing, knowing that it might be the last time she does, and what follows could very well bring a tear to your eye. It certainly did to mine.
Had the entirety of the film been as powerful as these last twenty minutes, “Judy” would have been incredible. Instead, the audience is forced to sit through an hour and a half of boring material before it actually gets interesting. There were a couple points where I almost fell asleep while watching this film, and I legitimately cannot remember the last time that happened.
Though “Judy” doesn’t provide a very exciting experience as a whole, the one consistently great part of the film was Zellweger’s performance as the titular star.
Zellweger managed to convincingly portray all of the complex emotions Garland was feeling. She was able to evoke the likeness of Garland without doing a cheesy impression, which is a very difficult thing to do. She sounded like her, moved like her and even looked like her at times.
After watching the movie for a while, Zellweger disappeared into the role, and it was as if the real Garland was on screen. It was an outstanding performance in an otherwise lackluster film. I won’t quite say that she will be nominated for an Oscar for the role, but I wouldn’t count her out.
“Judy” is a decent-at-best biopic that, depending on the viewer, might be saved by its excellent final act and wonderful lead performance. If you’re someone who is actively a fan of Garland, I would recommend this film. You’ll probably have a good time watching Zellweger’s performance, and the last 20 minutes will thrill you.
If you’re not really interested in Garland or her career, this film isn’t going to be what turns you around. You’d have a better time going out to see pretty much any other film that’s playing at the theater.