DIR: Rupert Goold • WRI: Tom Edge • DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland • ED: Melanie Oliver • DES: Kave Quinn • PRO: David Livingstone • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell
When watching The Wizard of Oz for the first or hundredth time you’ll be blown away by the magic of it all. A yellow brick road that will lead you to where you are meant to be. A tinman, lion, and scarecrow who despite having nothing physically in common with you’ll relate to their emotional complexity. A witch who is among the dastardliest villains to ever grace the screen. A wizard who hides behind an illusion to mask his deepest insecurities. A score that will remain immortalised until the end of time. Everything about the film is perfect. Yet, it would all fall apart without Judy Garland. Garland at the age of 16 delivers a beautifully innocent performance that no other actor in the world could ever come close to performing. The innocence in Garland’s eyes adds layers of depth to the story. When she begs to go home there is never a dry eye in the house. The world has never had a talent quite like her. Without Judy Garland the magic of Oz would never be the same.
Judy tells the story of the final chapter in Judy Garland’s (Renée Zellweger) legendary career. Struggling to make ends meet and fearing the prospect of losing her children to her ex-husband (Sydney Lufet), Garland agrees to perform in a series of concerts in London. From the prologue, it’s clear that Judy is going to break your heart into a million little pieces. The scene which sees a young Judy (Darci Shaw) being pushed into taking the role of Doherty by Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) is nothing short of devastating. Seeing a mogul full of power essentially threaten a young girl into taking a role hits harder considering all the awful things that have come out from the industry in the last few years. A horrible event that takes place on the set of Oz shows us from the start that Judy’s life was all but magic.
As the film continues and we spend time with adult Judy, it’s clear that this is the role that Renée Zellweger was born to play. Zellweger is spectacular as Judy Garland. She possesses the charm that wowed audiences for decades in bucketloads. It’s the side of Garland that many may be unaware of where Zellweger makes this her career-best performance. Considering the turbulent rise that Garland had, she was never going to have a normal life. Seeing her Garland cope with such an abnormal life is painful. Turning to booze and drugs as a comfort, Garland is wearing a mask to the public. It’s almost as if the actress regressed into a childlike state in her later years, which is understandable considering that she was robbed from ever having one.
Judy is isolated in the world, with no real friends to love and care for her. Everyone wants her to perform and put on a smile, but no one wants to be there when she needs them the most. Zellweger’s performance is one of an actor whose worst fear is to have the same fate as Garland. In a heart-wrenching rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Zellweger pours her soul into every single word of the song. There won’t be a dry eye in any cinema once the credits of Judy begin to roll. In an age where biopics are being released at a rapid pace, Renée Zellweger may have delivered the most beautiful performance of them all.
What makes Judy riveting is the decision not to stray away from the actor’s struggles. Biopics often stray away from the truth as they try to sanitize their subject matter in order not to cause offense. A major issue that plagued Bohemian Rhapsody. Judy does not shy away from showing the hardships that Garland endured. From being forced to take pills at a young age to attaching herself to men who don’t deserve her in an attempt to feel loved, there isn’t much happiness to be found in the film.
Director Rupert Gold was never going to lie to his audience. The final few months of Garland’s career were emotionally exhausting. Gould’s honesty behind the camera would have made Garland proud. His direction is low key, which is exactly what the film required. The only major moment of direction is when Garland is on stage. Instead of filling her numbers with background dancers and vivid images, Gould chooses to have only Judy and her band on stage. A decision which makes the viewer feel as if they are at one of her shows. At times the script from Tom Edge can feel like it came straight from a soap opera, there are a few moments involving her love interest Mickey (Finn Wittrock) that you’d see down in the Queen Vic. Edge makes up for these moments with an all-timer final line. No spoilers here but it will break you as a human being.
Judy more than does justice to the legacy of Judy Garland. Aided by rising star Jesse Buckley as her tour assistant, Rosalyn, Zellweger gives the performance of a lifetime. At the very least she’ll be waiting to hear an Oscar result in the Dolby Theatre come February. Darci Shaw as the younger Judy is as convincing as the legendary child actor. Shaw has a bright future ahead of her and will have all the support systems around her to make sure she’s comfortable every step of the way. It’s important for younger audiences to know what the world used to be like for rising stars. It’s up to us to ensure that Hollywood never regresses back to its former state. Even though she is no longer with us we can get justice for Judy Garland. Somewhere over the rainbow she’ll be watching down on us with a smile.
Liam De Brún
12A (see IFCO for details)
Judyis released 4th October 2019