Judy is the complete antithesis of the euphoric escapism of this year’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which too told a story about the classic cinema age. Rupert Goold’s encaptivating film about the legendary performer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) provides a much more tragic insight into the cinema culture, particularly in regards to the attitudes of the studio giants in the early-to-mid 20th century and how young stars who rebelled against their regime were treated. The Bridget Jones’ Diary star Renée Zellweger is Judy Garland, Hollywood’s golden child in the 1930s who, come 1968, is living on the road with two of her children, struggling to stay afloat. The film follows her as she arrives in London in winter of that year to perform a series of sold-out shows.

Zellweger – an initially bemusing choice for the starring role – is the spine that makes Judy an upright thrill of a film. Her meticulous study of later-life Garland shows on-screen with incredible force; right down to the on-stage strut, Zellweger is perfect as the rebellious show-woman. Garland’s distressing life in the limelight is captured so marvellously by Zellweger’s performance as the 46-year-old version of the star; the pain behind her eyes, the façade behind which she suppresses her true self, and the small, delicate presence of this fierce actress make for a beguiling performance by Zellweger, one which will surely be campaigned for an Academy Award.

Supported by an excellent cast, namely Jessie Buckley (of recent Wild Rose success), Zellweger’s performance moulds well into the wider picture of Hollywood tropes that Goold is trying to attack. Garland’s earlier life in Los Angeles is shown through a series of flashbacks – which at times are slightly unbalanced with the rest of the narrative – and viewers are allowed a small insight into the dangerous lifestyle forced upon her at a young age. The parallel with the modern exposure of the likes of Harvey Weinstein offers a subtle yet resounding message against this kind of culture.

Therefore, at times, Judy can be a rather disturbing watch. However, the tragedy that was Judy Garland’s life just isn’t tackled with enough integrity and grit. Her mental deterioration over the latter stages of her life – though exceptionally well personified in Zellweger’s performance – isn’t as blatantly present throughout the course of the narrative as it probably should have been. Instead, the focus is laid exclusively on her first and last years of fame, with little observation of the heart-breaking exploits in the middle of her woefully short life. More attention on the events which turned the innocent virginal character of the 1930s into a distraught, reckless, and ultimately sad human being by the mid-century would have allowed Goold to provide a deeper psychological analysis of Garland’s struggles.

But nonetheless, Judy is a true rollercoaster of a film. Much like the actress’ life, the narrative swings between moments of jubilation and contrasting nadirs with seamless ease, led by a stunning outing by Zellweger. The perfection of what lies “over the rainbow” is so close yet so far for Goold’s film, but Judy is a provocative, tear-jerking, foot-tapping musical journey through the life of one of cinema’s most damaged icons, and it’s hard not to lose yourself in its story.

4 stars

Image Credit: Movie DB

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