Courtesy of LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions
I know it’s early in the awards season, but Renee Zellweger’s performance in “Judy” is currently the one to beat this year.
But this isn’t a case of a good performance in a bad film (think Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody”) Rupert Goold’s portrait of famed singer/actress Judy Garland’s tragic decline is a very delicate, and balanced picture that expands your knowledge on the icon.
It starts from the early years on the set of “The Wizard of Oz” where Garland - as a child - was seen as a product for the MGM bottom line: Supplementing her diet with pills in order to keep her thin, and staging sweet sixteen photo shoots to give the illusion Garland was a happy child living a normal life, she was owned by the studio system, chewed up and spit back out, ultimately fueling her lifelong battle with depression, which is the main focal point of the engaging “Judy” that spans the last ten years of her life before she died at the age of 47.
Zellweger has always been talented, but in “Judy” she gets to the raw core and intensity of the singer within the first ten minutes. Moving through the stages of addiction and trying to raise her children while working for pennies singing in cheap cigar lounges, “Judy” takes a different approach to the biopic formula.
The film takes us along in 1969 with Judy at her lowest; she has no money and her ex-husband wants custody of her children. When invited to London for a series of performances at the Talk of the Town nightclub, propects begin to look up for the singer and Zellweger nails the cadence and vocal delivery ceaselessly.
Instead of hyping up the good parts of Judy’s life, the film watches her fall apart. Even if she can manage the strength (or literally be pushed) to get on stage and sing, she’ll often fall or not make it through the entire set. The film then intermittently flashes back to a younger Judy Garland (played wonderfully by Darci Shaw) on the MGM lot, where she repeatedly tried to escape the clutches of corporate greed. In fact, the only thing keeping her going was the will and satisfaction of performing for adoring fans,
Strategically, Goold keeps the camera on Zellweger for nearly every shot of the film, as she captures Garland’s frail mental state, her voice, inflection, and subtle mannerisms. Some of the glaring lip singing and microphone usage momentarily took me out of a couple scenes, and a detour involving her fifth husband (Finn Wittrock) doesn’t land as well as it should. Despite those minor shortcomings, “Judy” has plenty going for it with Zellweger delivering what is probably a career defining performance that soars well beyond the rainbow.
Judy is now playing in select cities and expanding the next couple weeks.