Rupert Goold (director)
03 October 2019 (released)
08 October 2019
Any actor must be daunted by the task of playing a showbiz legend in a biopic.
But after a lengthy hiatus from the film industry, Renee Zellweger certainly rises to the occasion in Rupert Goold’s new movie Judy, an adaptation of Broadway play End of the Rainbow, in which she portrays Hollywood icon Judy Garland in the last year of her life.
Set in 1968, the film kicks off with the audience meeting a stressed-out Garland as she arrives in London to perform a series of sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub with her two youngest children Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) in tow.
Thirty years after rising to global stardom in The Wizard of Oz, the entertainer is worn out following struggles with depression, alcohol and substance abuse, yet due to financial instability and a desire to provide for her kids, whom she shares with her difficult ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), Garland has no other choice but to take to the stage.
With a lot of help from her stoic personal assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley), the performer can pull out all the stops once in the spotlight - it’s as if she has some sort of muscle memory when it comes to entertaining - and all her problems momentarily fade into the background.
But, of course, Rosalyn can’t keep pushing the singer onto the stage and hoping for the best, and even with the support of her soon-to-be fifth husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), it’s evident she is on the cusp of a breakdown.
For those unfamiliar with the star’s history, Goold cleverly employs flashback sequences to delve into her past too.
Meetings between a young Garland (Darci Shaw) and her oppressive handlers make it clear where her pill-popping and eating disorders have stemmed from, while her interactions with frightening MGM boss Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) would be anxiety-inducing for even the strongest of women, let alone a naïve and lonely teenager.
Meanwhile, Sewell does a good job of capturing the sheer frustration that Garland’s spiralling behaviour causes Luft and their children, and Wittrock and Buckley offer dedicated performances in supporting roles.
But at the end of the day, Goold’s film is truly a vehicle for Zellweger’s talents.
There’s barely a second in the 118-minute runtime when her face isn’t on the screen, and with the magic of make-up, brown contact lenses, wigs, and Jany Temime’s brilliant costumes, the 50-year-old genuinely resembles Garland.
Sure, there are moments in concert scenes where her voice and the lip-syncing isn't as seamless as it could be, but in all other aspects of this exploration of one of Hollywood’s most tragic and complicated personalities, Zellweger soars. With such a well-researched and committed performance, all of that Oscars buzz is well deserved.