Judy Garland, one of the biggest icons of the 20th century and one of the few stars truly representative, for better or worse, of old Hollywood. We all know her from The Wizard of Oz, as the incomparable Dorothy Gale, but she also starred in Babes on Broadway, Meet Me In St. Louis, and A Star Is Born, along with a few dozen other classic titles. Despite the stardom, and in many ways because of it, Garland’s life was not an easy one. Her tragedy was happening off-screen.
Judy follows the singer’s final chapter in her life, strapped for cash, and unsure of what to do. She’s a doting mother who doesn’t want to be away from her children, not even for a night, but she quickly realizes she’s going to have to make some difficult, life-changing decisions. To make money, and to support her children, Garland goes off to London and takes up residence to perform a series of shows. The bulk of the film is her time in London, her happiness and sadness, and some of the events that reportedly take place during this time. Throughout the story, there are also brief flashbacks to Judy’s childhood when she is on the studio lot and working. These moments give insight into how Garland’s addictions began and shaped her later in life.
As Judy, Renée Zellweger gives a remarkable performance and makes you believe she actually is the real-life icon. Her singing and mannerisms are on-par with the real-life star, and it’s easy to get lost in Zellweger’s talent. Finn Wittrock gives a solid enough performance as Garland’s fourth and final husband, Mickey Deans, but he’s simply window dressing. He is present to illustrate another one of Garland’s poor decisions and, in this case, one of the last she’ll make in her life.
While the film is based on actual events, the most touching part of the story is made up. In the movie, Garland meets a gay couple and ends up spending the night out with them. To the two men, as with many LGBTQ people then and now, Garland is a hero. In these quiet moments of the movie, while fictionalized, Judy was able to just be herself, and it shows her for who she was, away from performing and her troubles
The film as a whole is a step-by-step biopic with few surprises. We’ve seen these kinds of movies before, but Judy certainly stands out. Renée Zellweger brings everything to the table and is the reason this movie works at all. It’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. Zellweger’s award prospects are incredibly strong. By all accounts, this is her race to lose. Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, and Saoirse Ronan will offer some competition as other likely nominees.