Combustible Celluloid
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With: Renée Zellweger, Darci Shaw, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Jessie Buckley, Bella Ramsey, Royce Pierreson, Arthur McBain, John Dagleish, Gemma-Leah Devereux, David Rubin
Written by: Tom Edge, based on a play by Peter Quilter
Directed by: Rupert Goold
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking
Running Time: 118
Date: 09/26/2019

Judy (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rainbow's End

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Avoiding the dull, broad scope of something like Bohemian Rhapsody, but also missing a chance at something delicate and lovely like Stan & Ollie, the biopic Judy lands squarely in the middle. It's not too exciting, but it's also mildly diverting and not too aggravating. Its main problem is that, in the case of most biopics, the main, lead performance is almost always excellent, and Oscar-worthy. But while Renée Zellweger is charming doing her own thing — and she was able to effectively adapt her personality to an earlier biopic, Miss Potter — she simply doesn't have the range to be able to pull off a superstar like Judy Garland. (I hope the Academy doesn't throw away an Oscar on this, especially since Zellweger already won for her atrocious performance in the dull Cold Mountain, and especially when better options, like Tessa Thompson in Little Woods, are available.)

The main problem with the movie is that, while Zellweger can certainly sing, she cannot sing like Garland. (Rami Malek didn't sound like Freddie Mercury, and he still won an Oscar by lip-syncing Mercury's singing... certainly that could have been an option here). The other problem is that Zellweger doesn't even seem like Garland. From a distance, and from the side, she resembles Garland a little. But close-up, her performance is full of Zellweger-like tics, especially her trademark pursed lips. On the other hand, she's still likable enough to pull us easily through the movie, which is set in 1968 as Garland goes to England to kick-start her waning career with a series of sold-out live shows.

Like Stan & Ollie, this seems like a good way to narrow down and razor-focus a story, but Judy still manages to ramble, and still manages to sideline and short-change every single supporting character. A gay couple, die-hard Judy fans that have spent their savings to attend the shows, become the focus of one tender scene, one of the movie's best, and are then forgotten until they're needed again in the finale. The movie also wastes time on the unpleasant and uninteresting story of Judy's fifth marriage, to loudmouth hustler Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), and it misses an opportunity to create a friendship between Judy and her handler, Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley); Rosalyn is just too polite to ever connect with the damaged, needy Garland. Instead, she mostly asks, "can I get you anything?"

Whereas Stan & Ollie had one, beautifully-placed flashback, Judy keeps going back again and again to young Judy (Darci Shaw, who is more like Garland than Zellweger), and her miserable treatment at the hands of Louis B. Mayer; the movie shows her getting pills as a young teen, to help keep her figure trim, and then more pills to help her come down from the first pills. While these scenes are meant to shed light on the 1968 scenes, they only make the movie feel more inflated. Regardless, Judy is still fairly effective, and it will likely please a small contingent of fans already attuned to this kind of musical drama, but it doesn't have the power to make any newcomers want to see the real Judy at work. For that, I can't recommend anything higher than Meet Me in St. Louis (1944); that's a masterpiece, with Garland at her peak.

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