Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
Director: Rupert Goold
Running Time: 118 mins
Judy is a British film about legendary performer Judy Garland and her series of sell-out shows in London in 1968, played out against the backdrop of her deep personal struggles.
On the face of things a fascinating account of a spectacular but troubled life, Judy is a brilliant biopic right the way through, but what really makes it stand out is its electrifying emotional passion, both for the charismatic performer that was Judy Garland, as well as the deep inner turmoil she suffered for so many years, brought to life by an exhilarating lead performance from Renée Zellweger.
If there’s one thing to say about Judy as a film then, it’s that it stays incredibly faithful to the spirit of its subject matter. At times a quiet and tender emotional drama, and at others a big, theatrical piece, the film shows off all the sides to the legendary actress and singer, and never holds back even when it comes to the darker moments.
Now, there are times when the film isn’t quite as spectacular as you might hope to see, and that Elton John biopic Rocketman proved could work so well, but I really appreciated the commitment here to making a quieter, more reflective film that, while not forgetting Judy Garland’s incredible performing talents and often larger-than-life personality, allows you to really connect with her as a person in her most troubled time.
If you’re a fan of Garland’s music, there’s definitely enough to satisfy you, featuring a number of hugely entertaining performances of her most memorable songs, capped off with a deeply touching rendition of Over The Rainbow. However, what this film does so well is give you a riveting insight not only into the woman behind the music, but the world in which she lived for so long, and its deep impact on her entire life.
Renée Zellweger’s performance is absolutely fantastic. Not only does she brilliantly carry off the likeness, mannerisms and character of the singer, she gives a heart-wrenching turn as an emotionally drained Garland that, despite her strong, vibrant personality, is at her wits’ end no matter what she does. And there, whether it’s in the energetic musical sequences or the most intimate, quiet moments where we the camera focuses long and hard on her face, we learn so much about Garland’s struggles and innermost thoughts without anything being said straight up.
Saying that, I wouldn’t call this the most subtle of biopics, but nor is it a melodramatic, ‘Oscar-baity’ film. It has the theatrics that go well with Garland’s character, but it also stays away from loud, chaotic emotional drama that so often cheapens the power of a film, and it’s those quietest moments where Judy is at its most powerful, and absolutely most touching.
It is a bittersweet watch, and director Rupert Goold does well to blend the dramatic highs and lows of the story, also bringing Garland’s experiences as a young woman when working on The Wizard Of Oz into play. Those flashbacks are occasionally a little clumsy, and don’t quite match the deeply pensive tone of the scenes set in Garland’s later years, but they also serve to give great context to the person we see in the late 1960s, and absolutely deserve to have a place in the film.
Overall, then, I was really impressed by Judy. Not only an interesting and informative biopic, it’s a film that’s filled with so much touching emotion that it’s difficult to not feel entirely encapsulated by its reflective look at a troubled life. At times, it’s a vibrant, energetic theatrical piece, and at others it’s as quiet and thoughtful as it can be, but with a powerhouse performance from Zellweger, some great music and a moving story, it’s a fantastic watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.2.