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JUDY gets 6.5/10 Goodbye yellow brick road


Directed by Rupert Goold

Starring Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Jessie Buckley, Michael Gambon

6.5/10

After decades of drug and alcohol abuse, in part brought about by childhood trauma, actress Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger)  finds that her star has faded. Unable to get work in Hollywood due to her difficult reputation and unreliability, she is forced to tour England to try and earn enough money to look after her two youngest children. Between the depression and emotional turmoil, Garland manages to rediscover the magic of performing on stage.

The focus of Judy is Zellweger. Already touted for an Oscar nomination, she gives an impressive performance as the legendary songstress, capturing her mannerism and vocal range. It feels churlish to hold such a fine performance up to extreme scrutiny, but when it’s claiming to be one of the performances of the year, you do need to seriously examine that claim. Zellweger manages to capture Judy’s essence, beyond mere mimicry, but doesn’t seem to effortlessly inhabit the role. At times you are acutely aware of Zellweger reaching into her bag of acting tricks to sell the moment, you can see the thought behind her eyes. Like any exceptional performance it should appear effortless, hiding the dedication that it takes to bring to audiences. Judy doesn’t always achieve this, and at times that breaks the audience’s immersion in the tale.

However, there are times it does appear effortless, and here Judy shines. Appropriately like the songstress herself, this is on stage, capturing the magic of her act. Zellweger loses herself in the music and Goold’s direction really does excel. The first song in particular is a film highlight, as it establishes the fragility of the character, framing her against a larger audience, before sweeping in to centre on Zellweger as the routine reaches a crescendo in a fashion akin to a classic musical number. For a moment it captures everything about the Garland legend that we have come to expect, the exceptional talent and the fragility of the performer that it’s embodied in.

Unfortunately Judy rarely hits these heights, rather giving us occasional glimpses at them. Beyond that it’s rather a standard, albiet moving bio-pic, switching between the damaged Garland trying to get her career back on track so she can care for her two youngest children, and the younger Garland, suffering emotional trauma at the hands of an abusive and controlling studio system. While leaving a lot of Garland’s career unexamined, in covering the tragic end and the harsh beginning of her career, Judy probably covers all it needs to, but it never feels like the script really has that much to say. Instead it consistently reinforces her that odd combination of human frailty and resilience in Garland, and leaves little doubt as to where the blame lays.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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