Thursday, September 26, 2019

Judy - Review

The biopic and awards season, two things that go together like peanut butter and jelly. Less in an enjoyable way, more in the repeatedly eaten for every meal kind of way until you’re sick of it. However there are exceptions, days where a biopic actually connects and accomplishes its goal, and the results can be magnificent. Judy may not reach those heights, but it sure is a heck of a lot better than most.

Thirty years after starring in "The Wizard of Oz," beloved actress and singer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans and begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), her soon-to-be fifth husband.

It’s gets a little difficult to write a complete review when one aspect of the film carries most of the film, and requires a lot of the praise for its success. It doesn’t help that most anything that can be said about Renée Zellweger’s performance has already been said. The triumphant return to the big screen angle has been beaten like a dead horse, the praise for breathing life into a Hollywood icon has been sung, and her frontrunner status has already been declared, and they are all fitting evaluations of Zellweger’s role as Judy Garland.

It’s not as if the film is devoid of anything else worthwhile, Zellweger just sucks up all the attention when she’s on screen, and that’s about 95% of the film. The costumes, makeup, and hairstyling are obviously top notch, a requirement to portray the glamour of Garland’s European shows, and a good mask for the pain of her life. The shows themselves pop, including a deliberate use of emotional manipulation with the use of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the film’s closing moments. It’s a well constructed and quite pretty film, elevated by the lead performance of Zellweger.

Where the film stumbles slightly is in the cliched beats of biopic storytelling. Thankfully, the film skews the birth-to-death narrative that used to be the norm in favor of a focused look at the star’s later years, with some flashbacks scattered about along the way. The flashbacks are a nice touch, as they’re able to show the abuse and pain of Garland’s “childhood” in brief snippets, illuminating the anguish behind the eyes of the adult Garland. Outside of this clever structural choice, the beats really are familiar, from the untrustworthy love interest to the struggles with addiction to the desire to be remembered beyond your life.

Judy is an awards-vehicle for Renée Zellweger that just happens to be a solid little biographical look at Judy Garland as well. Sure, the film may enter conversations in other technical categories, but the focus will be on getting the actress her fourth nomination and a potential second win. At a fairly quick two hour runtime, anyone with a slight interest in one of old Hollywood’s biggest names or even someone just looking to get a start on their awards season watchlist, should give Judy a watch when you can.

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