Friday Film Review - "Judy"

Oct 21, 2019

"Judy" is a bio-pic that follows the legendary Judy Garland through the last few months of her life interwoven with flashbacks to her youth at the MGM studios. In a telling opening moment, Judy is staring at a wall while the studio head, Louis B. Mayer asks her, “What do you see beyond this wall?” He then describes a world beyond full of girls—who he constantly reminds Judy are prettier and thinner than her—but who are doomed to live mundane lives. Judy, on the other hand, is destined to be set apart and is tasked with the job to give all those ordinary people dreams.

The movie explores the costs of literally and figuratively being walled off from the world. Young Judy is starved, manipulated and drugged. She’s treated like a trained monkey—trotted out to shine for the world. But what happens when the shine begins to fade and the system that made and broke you, casts you out beyond the wall? In the end, Judy is just trying to survive and be a good mother in a world she is ill-equipped to navigate.

Judy tells someone early in the film that having children is like living with your heart on the outside of your body. Watching this film is a little like that too. It’s raw and painful, but also tender and real. The film revolves around a stunning performance by Renee Zellweger, who captures all the mess and brokenness while never letting us forget the heart and hope of Judy Garland. Her performance is like watching a fragile wounded bird—holding your breath because you’re not sure if it’s going to crumble or fly. Zellweger’s Garland does both.

The best moments of the film are the small ones that reveal so much tenderness in the face of pain. Judy comforting a devoted fan as he breaks down over the pain of his life and the pain he sees in her. The emaciated Judy at 47, taking her first ever tiny bite of cake and the surprise and delight of it and then her summing up so much of her life by saying, “I think maybe I was just hungry.”

The move is as fragile and beautiful as Judy herself. The moments of singing are sublime. Though Judy and her voice have been damaged and abused, and she is often slurring through a drugged, sleep-deprived haze, the performances soar and we are swept up in the power of her full-hearted vulnerability.

The movie ends with her receiving applause and adoration from her audience while she asks, “You won’t forget me. Promise you won’t.” Till the very end, she got what she was trained most to want, but it’s impossible to not feel the pain at the cost.

"Judy" was directed by Rupert Goold and written by Tom Edge. It was based on the Olivier- and Tony-nominated play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. It runs 118 minutes and is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content and some strong language.