"Judy" (2019)- Movie Review

Directed by Rupert Goold
Written by Tom Edge (based on stage play “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter)
Starring Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley and Finn Wittrock
‘A Gorgeous Garland Tribute’

When it comes to the greatest stage performers of all-time, nobody beats Judy Garland. Ever since she rose to prominence in the 1930’s, Garland has become one of the most celebrated stars in Hollywood. Throughout her illustrious career, she proved to be a multi-talented performer with an aptitude for both acting and singing. With their engrossing stories, timeless songs and unforgettable performances, Garland’s films are held in the highest regard today. Given her status as a beloved icon, Judy Garland’s life seems to deserve the cinematic treatment. Her life story encompasses themes of stardom that seem appropriate for a Hollywood biopic. It is surprising, then, that Garland’s life has never been depicted on the big-screen.

Now, Rupert Goold brings the beloved icon’s story to the big-screen for the first time in his latest film “Judy”. An insightful, endearing and heartfelt biopic, it offers a fascinating look at the final years of the renowned actress. With his second feature, director Rupert Goold has crafted a glowing tribute to the late Hollywood icon and her enduring legacy. Packed with captivating cinematography, marvelous musical sequences and excellent performances, it is a highly effective musical biopic. Although “Judy” is undeniably uplifting, ultimately it is not a flawless film. Its story is slightly formulaic, and suffers from unnecessary flashbacks that interrupt the flow of the narrative. Nonetheless, it offers old-fashioned entertainment that fans of Judy Garland won’t be able to resist.

Based on Peter Quilter’s stage play, “Judy” chronicles the life of Judy Garland and her personal struggles during the final years of her career. Renée Zellweger stars in the title role as Judy Garland, the legendary performer whose career is on the decline. Judy is struggling to cope with substance abuse issues in the wake of a devastating divorce. However, her life forever changes when she arrives in London to perform a five-week series of stage concerts. As Judy delivers her closing performances, she begins to lament the inevitable end of her career.

It’s a spectacular showbiz story that is deftly told by director Rupert Goold. Goold is an acclaimed theater director that is best known for his TV adaptations of stage plays (ex. 2012’s “Macbeth”). “Judy”, however, marks his first musical biopic and foray into the personal life of a legendary icon. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to bring Judy Garland’s extraordinary story to the big-screen, but he pulls it off skillfully. Using mesmerizing cinematography, Goold draws viewers into the life of an aging actress in the 1960’s. From intimate close-ups to breathtaking establishing shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s period setting. Goold’s decision to shoot the stage concerts in long takes is risky, but it works tremendously. It gives the film a bright and cheerful atmosphere that is reminiscent of classic movie-musicals from the 1930’s. Working alongside cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland, Goold creates a sumptuous film in which each frame captures the lavish lifestyle of Judy Garland. Goold excels at recreating the final years of the famous actress, and his latest feature is worth watching for this reason alone.

If stories of aging superstars do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Judy”. The film is extremely well-made, and features the most impressive production values that you’ll ever see in a musical biopic. The sets, musical sequences and makeup are all carefully crafted, combining to create an immersive movie-going experience. Goold proves to be an expert at staging live musical sequences for his film. Assisted by production designer Kave Quinn, Goold creates marvelous musical sequences that showcase Judy Garland’s prowess as a stage performer. It is tricky to incorporate live musical sequences into biopics, but they work extremely well in this movie. Whether it is the toe-tapping “The Trolley Song” or the heartbreaking “Over the Rainbow”, the live musical performances bring out Judy’s charismatic presence as a stage performer. Moreover, Jeremy Woodhead’s makeup is also worth praising. It is not easy to transform an actress into a famous figure, but Woodhead does an impeccable job. Using spot-on facial prosthetics, the makeup artist meticulously brings the screen legend to life. Through phenomenal production values, Goold keeps viewers engrossed in the world of a renowned movie-star.

In terms of acting, the entire ensemble is at the top of its game. Every star gets the chance to shine, but the film is mainly a stunning showcase for its leading lady.

Renée Zellweger delivers one of the best performances of her career as Judy Garland. This is the actress unlike you’ve ever seen her before: intense, charismatic and utterly mesmerizing in her most transformative role to date. It is not easy to portray an iconic screen legend. It’s a challenging role that requires the actress to perform a massive catalogue of Judy Garland’s songs. However, Zellweger pulls it off effortlessly. With enchanting expressions, she captures the charm, elegance and enduring appeal of the famous star. Not only does Zellweger embody Judy’s exuberant persona, but she manages to do justice to her most beloved songs. It’s a phenomenal performance from one of the most talented actresses working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Finn Wittrock is fantastic and brings simmering sexual tension to the movie as Judy’s love interest Mickey. Jessie Buckley is brilliant and imbues shades of humanity into Judy’s personal assistant Rosalyn. And finally, it is hard to not mention Darci Shaw. As the younger version of Judy, she embodies the naivety of the actress during her early career.

Although “Judy” is undeniably a marvelous musical biopic, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s one area where the film falters, it is in the storytelling department. Tom Edge’s screenplay is slightly formulaic and arguably the film’s primary weakness. The script solely focuses on a specific time period in Judy Garland’s life. Due to this faulty approach, there are times when the film feels more like a Wikipedia summary rather than an in-depth biopic of the iconic figure. Moreover, the film suffers from unnecessary flashbacks of Judy’s early career. Edge’s decision to interweave flashbacks into the story is bold and innovative, but it doesn’t entirely work. Instead of providing informative backstory, the flashbacks interrupt the flow of the narrative and detract from the entertainment-value of the movie. As a result, the biopic offers merely a glimpse rather than a comprehensive look at the life of the Hollywood icon. Musical biopics thrive based on the quality of their storytelling, and in this regard “Judy” falls short of expectations.

Nevertheless, fans of showbiz dramas will definitely enjoy “Judy” and so will movie-goers seeking old-fashioned entertainment. A gorgeous tribute to Judy Garland and her timeless legacy, it proves that her extraordinary life is worthy of attention. At a time when modern audiences seem to have forgotten Judy Garland, it’s a rousing reminder that the stories of legendary performers are worth retelling on the big-screen.

3.5/5 stars

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