Often writing these reviews, the correspondent must go into IMDb and print out a cast list to assist in the critique of the film.
Not so with Judy (2019) where the list was only necessary to check the spelling of the star’s name. Renee Zellweger dominates this film to such an extent that the rest of the performers are nearly superfluous.
This ties in neatly with the film’s premise that movie star and songstress Judy Garland, whose biopic this is, had no real friends. All her love came from the breadth of her audience, an intangible concept for any recipient. How certain are you of mass love as opposed to the hug of one dear friend?
Garland, the teenage girl next door of pre WWII MGM musicals – most famously as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939) – is shown at the end of her career, playing London’s Top of the Town to earn enough money to re-house her two children from her fourth marriage. The lady’s a mess of nerves and twitches and uncertainty. She is unreliable and unemployable in Hollywood, hits the bottle and uses pills to help while awake and again to make her sleep.
We are shown the pills regime was the work of MGM boss Louis B Mayer to keep weight off his young star and have her perky enough to deliver her unique voice to his studio’s lavish productions.
Judy exposes the Hollywood star system in all its darkness, although by contrast these scenes are mostly shot on the Oz lot of bucolic scenery and props amid vivid colour.
The movie moguls paved the way for actors and actresses to earn riches and pursue a ‘dream life’ but contracted players were highly-paid slaves of their studio chiefs. Some rebelled – and Garland tried – but being a teenager without a loving mother, made her rebellion even less successful than that of the older stars.
I was interested that fellow club members enjoyed these scenes of pre-war Hollywood and the performance of Darci Shaw as the young Judy. I found her unconvincing as the Garland I recalled as a small boy watching movies like Broadway Melody of 1938.
Garland also made Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) and Strike up the Band (1940) alongside Mickey Rooney and it is suggested that the studio system and their juvenile uncertainty kept the two friends from being a couple. Who knows, a wedding made in Hollywood heaven may have succeeded and saved 13 failed marriages to boot.
But back to Zellweger’s stand-out performance. From the first scene she captured the drug-dependent Garland and convinced viewers through to the film’s conclusion. I thought it brave for Zellweger to use her own voice but she nailed that too, despite some critics being canny enough to notice the lip syncing.
As at a concert, when many audience members cannot wait for the performer(s) to play their greatest hit, I was itching for Zellweger to sing ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. When she did, it was a failure of sorts (as per the actual event, not through any fault of the actor) but drew the poignant moment of her audience rising to sing its well-known lyrics back to her.
However, despite the excellence of her mimicry, I found Zellweger’s twitches and lip purses just a little too prevalent. It was all I could concentrate on. Like the man with the face mole in Austin Powers, the eye was drawn to it, despite the best efforts to ignore it. For me the dialogue and the plot became secondary. Not that they rated much more than secondary status.
Judy is a pretty average film with a pretty first-rate performance from its star.