Renée Zellweger takes on the role of Judy Garland in Judy, a biopic set late in the singer/actress' life during a tumultuous London-based set of concerts. The film earned Zellweger several awards including a Best Actress Oscar.
The true story of Judy Garland was always a rather tragic one so a biopic based on her life would have to dip into some pretty dark territory whilst remaining respectful and celebrating the subject's obvious talent. Some biopics achieve this sort of balance better than others. By being set near the end of Garland's career, Judy goes the Stan & Ollie route by focusing on one of the subject's rockiest moments. We first meet Garland as a young girl on the set of The Wizard Of Oz, speaking to her studio manager Louis B. Mayer, whose harshness intimidates her into taking her child star career seriously. We go back and forth between this period of her life as she spends time with Mickey Rooney, is forced to watch her diet constantly and deals with the abusive adults around her, and Garland in her 40's trying to take care of her children financially by performing.
She travels to London, leaving her children with her ex husband, where her insomnia, stress and addictions instantly become a problem. Performing that very first night seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Against all odds, she delivers an excellent performance but the problems persist. Renée Zellweger's performance as Garland is a career best: physically, the actress does an incredible job at capturing the star's posture, mannerisms and voice. But this isn't just an impression as Zellweger goes deep trying to show Garland's rollercoaster-like range of emotions and you quickly forget you're watching good old Bridget Jones. The actress took something of a break between 2010 and 2016 so it's good to see her not only back and choosing challenging projects like this but knocking it out of the park.
There are songs throughout the film but only a few. Each performance emphasizing the internal struggle Garland is going through at a particular time. Between the addictions, the eating disorders, lingering trauma, pressures of performing and bad relationships, this is a person you expect to break for good at any moment yet she persists, even when it looks she's about to give up, in order to keep the people she loves, her children, with her and deliver something truly special to the audience she respects. It's a touching story and the film does well to hammer home Garland's emotional and physical challenges, you definitely feel like she deserved better, much better.
That said, Judy is also rather by-numbers in terms of its storytelling and it really doesn't tell us much about how Garland got to this point. A film like La Vie En Rose achieved what Judy tries to achieve a lot better by giving us a fuller understanding of just how much her life changed from her earlier years to her later days. Garland's interactions with a couple of her fans in Judy also feels a little forced, like the film wanted to show that she did have people supporting her and how she meant a lot to her queer fans but it doesn't quite know how.
Despite writing that can be a tad slight at times, Judy is still a solid biopic with an impressive lead performance well deserving of its Oscar win. Renée Zellweger's against-type turn alone makes the film worth watching but this is a useful and effective look at how a child star can be moulded and destroyed by the very same industry, and the human struggle that follows long after.