WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
Renee Zelwegger takes a huge swing inhabiting one of the most iconic, yet most troubled, entertainers of the 20th Century--- and she nails it magnificently in Judy. The film itself, is also very good.
Based on Peter Quilter’s stage play, “The End of the Rainbow” Judy wisely focuses on a short time in Judy Garland’s life, with the exception of flashbacks to Judy as a child star, where the genesis of her addiction and zealous desire to be loved begin. This is the major weakness in Judy, the flashbacks. They don’t mesh particularly well with the present (1968-1969) story, and seem to be randomly placed. Perhaps screenwriter, Tom Edge and director Robert Goold wanted to show how Judy became an addict, of no fault of her own, that from the beginning she was fed both uppers and downers from a studio that wanted to manipulate and control one of its most popular stars. Ethically abhorrent, the way MGM treated their meal ticket was not uncommon. Judy’s bosses emotionally abused her with nasty nicknames referring to her looks: she was no Elizabeth Taylor. Even if they treated her badly, they couldn’t deny her talent: Judy Garland could do it all, sing, dance, drama, comedy and onscreen she was beguiling. Perhaps one flashback or a prologue at the beginning of the film would have sufficed to convey the wound of her addiction and her inherent vulnerability.
No matter though, because the rest of the film is so glorious, so brilliantly realized and “felt.” Zelwegger is astonishing in her inhabitation, her evocation of Judy Garland. It never feels like an imitation, which would be so easy to do with a legendary over the top personality. There is tremendous vulnerability in the performance. We see Judy’s loneliness, her desire for stability, her need to be rescued…by anyone, including her fifth husband, Mickey Deans (another bad choice), played here by Finn Wittrock. How ridiculous and untenable does Deans’ comeback and money making schemes sound: Judy Garland movie theaters, where Judy doesn’t have to do anything ever, just put her name on the brand and collect ten percent of every dollar in the theater? Sid Luft, her third husband and father of two of her children, wasn’t the rescue she wanted either. If only Judy Garland could stand on her own two feet and not need a “rescue”- but that ship sailed long before she found herself desperate and lonely in London, playing her last professional gigs at the iconic nightclub “Talk of the Town.” Judy was never in charge of her own life; her life was taken from her since she began performing at the age of two.
A film actor is an emotional conduit for us all-and there are three scenes in particular that go to the core of Judy Garland and will resonate with anyone who has ever felt, vulnerable, lonely, desperate and hopeless. First: Judy meets her two biggest fans, a gay male British couple who go to her shows repeatedly, at the stage door, she’s lonely and looking for company she invites herself to dinner with them- but it is a Tuesday night at midnight and nothing is open. So she ends up at their house, and they have dinner, and share a song and play cards. This encounter may very well be apocryphal, but when Zelwegger sings here, with her newly found friends it’s transformative. Alone, no place to go, after her own sold out show, she connects the only way she knows how-and it is great. Second: there is a short scene in a payphone when Judy calls her kids back in Los Angeles, letting them know she is okay with them staying there with their father, because it is more stable-and her young daughter asks her if she will be okay, and Judy says, with a breath and hesitation, “sure, sure.” Judy has never been and never will be okay. Lastly, there is the closing scene when Judy, fired from her gig at “Talk of the Town” shows up at the theater and talks her way onto to stage to sing in the performer’s (that replaced her) show: her signature song “Over the Rainbow” – which is about hope – and she cannot even finish it. There is no hope left. The audience, prompted by her biggest fans, with whom she had the late night dinner, stand up and complete the song for her. But we know, we feel, that the end of the rainbow is very near.
Brilliant and devastating; Zelwegger definitely earned her Oscar and every other award she has won.