If it’s award season, you can be sure that there will be a number of performance-driven biopics. It is a genre that has continued without much alteration over the years, often focusing on romantic troubles, substance addiction, traumatic childhoods, and careers either on the rise or fall. Judy is no exception, and if it weren’t for Renée Zellweger’s performance as Hollywood legend Judy Garland, I would have little reason to recommend it.
In typical Hollywood fashion, Zellweger took months of singing lessons and utilized make-up tricks to better imitate the beloved singer. But while the resemblance is fairly close, it is in her adoption of small behavior and facial tics that Zellweger captures the spirit of Garland, as well as her sadness. And the sadness is mostly what Judy focused on. The film begins as she is forced to part with the children from her second marriage, unable to afford custody of them. She travels to London to perform in a series of sold-out concerts, bringing with her all of the baggage of a life fading out of the spotlight.
Between the performances in London, which vary from brilliant to a drunken mess, the film wallows in Garland’s loneliness off-stage. Through flashbacks of a childhood abused on sets and used for publicity, the very things that Garland desires at the end of her life seem to be what she was trying to escape in her younger ones. Either way, she is portrayed as a victim at both ends of the narrative. Judy even alludes to a climate of harassment which aligns it with the themes in Bombshell, another film with the biopic structure and utilizing make-up effects to alter the appearance of otherwise recognizable stars.
Mostly Garland remains a mystery in Judy, a confusing contradiction of desires to remain onstage while seeming to simultaneously want nothing more than to be done performing. She is incredibly lonely, but also tends to push those around her away. One of the film’s most touching moments comes after an evening performing when Garland asks an aging gay couple to dinner with her, despite it being long after any restaurant is still open. This is one of the few moments in the film with complete focus, and perhaps the only one that doesn’t take place onstage. I wanted more from those characters, which made me realize I was left wanting more from the film.
The musical performances by Zellweger are a marvel to watch, but that has more to do with her ability to mirror Garland’s style than any real translation in talent. That’s not to say that Zellweger cannot sing, but even though she is able to imitate Judy Garland, she is still not Judy Garland. These take up a surprisingly small amount of the run-time, however, and there are as many performances where she is too drunk to impress either audience, diegetic or non-diegetic. In the end, this is as much the lamentation of a sad life in show business as it is a celebration of Garland’s talent.
The Blu-ray release of this Golden Globe winner comes with a making-of featurette, as well as a gallery of behind-the-scenes/promotional photographs. The high definition disc also comes with a DVD copy, as well as a code for digital download/streaming.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 4/10