Judy (Goold, 2019): USA

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed at the Werner Herzog Theatre as a part of the 46th Telluride Film Festival

Judy, directed by Rupert Goold (True Story), screen written by Tom Edge, and starring Renee Zellwegger (Chicago, Bridget Jones Diary, Jerry Maguire) made its world premiere, Saturday, August 31st, 2019, in Telluride, Colorado.

Renee Zellwegger’s performance as Judy Garland is not only spot-on as she brings out the humanity of one of America’s showbiz icons dealing with an overbearing Hollywood industry, conniving husbands and a overwhelming desire for normalcy, it is also heartfelt and disciplined as Zellwegger captures the spirit and tenacity of Garland’s stage persona and her withering attempts in living life on life’s terms.

Set in the winter months of 1968, showbiz legend Judy Garland arrives in Swinging London to perform a five-week, sold-out run at The Talk of the Town, formerly known as the London Hippodrome Theatre and Restaurant. It has been 30 years since Garland shot to global stardom in The Wizard of Oz and while her voice may have weakened, its dramatic intensity has only grown. As Garland prepares for the show, she battles with management, charms musicians and reminisces with friends and adoring fans. All the while, her wit and warmth shine brilliantly through the camera lens. Makeup and hair designer Jeremy Woodhead earns his apy and then some as Zellwegger’s likeness is uncanny – a real “spit n’ image” if there ever was one!

Director Goold cut his teeth directing stage performances and in creating the film Judy, adapts a musical, “End of the Rainbow,” dealing with a similar time frame of Garland’s career – stands to reason the most powerful scenes are those with Zellweger on stage performing as Judy Garland. Cinematogapher Ole Bratt Birkeland adds some crafty work here as well. Despite not singing onscreen since her performance in Chicago, Zellwegger’s voice in these moments themselves make the film truly extraordinary. Moreover, Goold adds a theatrical vision to his flashbacks of Garlands early years as a child performer under the auspices of an imposing studio head in the from of movie mogul, Luis B. Mayer that are surreal and disturbing to the sensibilities and lend credibility to Garland’s pill and alcohol addiction.

As the film delves into the dreamlike (nightmarish) flashbacks of Garland’s childhood-crushing experiences at the hands Mayer, Garland continues to forge forward with her London tour determined to regain custody of her children while her dreams of love seem undimmed as she embarks on a whirlwind romance with Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband, all the while seeking to protect and raise her children.

Featuring some of Judy Garland’s best-known songs, the film celebrates the voice, the capacity for love, and the sheer pizzazz of “the world’s greatest entertainer.” Gabriel Yared handles the quiet, heartbreaking score while Zellwegger delivers stirring, moving Garland musical performances evoking an awareness of a thought, “Is this live or Memorex?”  Hats off the Renee Zellwegger, the sound team and Adrian Bell (sound mixer).

Judy is set to be released into theatres August 27th and is a highly recommended film.

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