JUDY GARLAND. THE words themselves smack of red glittery stuff and evoke the sparkle and passion of the career of arguably American showbiz’s greatest, who began as a precocious toddler, sung some of the western world’s most beautiful recognisable standards and was wasted by the realities of her career less than 50 years later. But rather than offering a balanced foray into the real magnificence of Judy, the eponymous biopic Judy, is an essay on the toughness of a showbiz career and paints a tortured picture of a drugged and broken Garland, months before her tragic death in 1969.
With an eye too much on the horrors of her life and her naivete and not enough on her importance on stage and screen, it’s a tale, crudely scripted, of woe rather than victory, particularly for young audience members who may not have been raised aware of the ambit and reach of Garland’s golden voice, stage presence and well known standards.
The strange thing about the film industry these days is the fact that the biopic juggernaut is a monetised one and runs, rotten with sensationalism and willy-nilly over nuance and poetry with its ‘based on the true story’ punt that subtitles so much of it. And in many respects, films such as Rupert Goold’s Judy become an exercise in ego rather than a glowing celebration of someone real. A case in point that contradicts this is the extraordinary work celebrating Luciano Pavarotti’s life. Without having to choose and squeeze a performer into a diluted tribute role, the work is freed of the kind of faux layering of look-alikes we see in Judy. Instead it celebrates the real thing.
Similarly, if the Judy in question was a lawyer or an astronaut, the actress cast in the role would be doing her job. Setting up a performer to ‘be’ Judy Garland, immediately puts her on the back foot. While Renée Zellweger does a competent job, you are never able to overlook the fact that this is Zellweger acting as Garland. And however hard she tries, she will never be able to replicate Garland’s unique vocal range.
But all is not completely lost. The film is book-ended by two very beautiful moments which encapsulate a suggestion of the magic of a charmed career on stage, and it is the presence of the gay couple, Dan (Andy Nyman) and Stan (Daniel Cerqueira) that lend the work the heart that you spend most of the work’s duration seeking.
- Judy is directed by Rupert Goold and features a cast headed by Tim Ahern, Bradley Banton, Gus Barry, Gus Brown, Jessie Buckley, Lucy Carter, Daniel Cerqueira, Alistair Cope, Richard Cordery, John Dagleish, Jennifer Davison, Flora Dawson, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Phil Dunster, Joelle Dyson, Rebecca Fennelly, Peter Forbes, Michael Gambon, Jack Jagodka, Bentley Kalu, Bronte Lavine, Lewin Lloyd, Adrian Lukis, John Mackay, Arthur McBain, Jodie McNee, Matt Nalton, Andy Nyman, Gillian Parkhouse, Royce Pierreson, Natasha Powell, Tom Durant Pritchard, Bella Ramsey, David Rubin, Lucy Russell, Martin Savage, Rufus Sewell, Darci Shaw, David Shields, Anthony Shuster, Ed Stoppard, Emily Warner, Gaia Weiss, Jenny Wickham, Sam Wingfield, Finn Wittrock, Fenella Woolgar, Renée Zellweger. It is written by Tom Edge, based on Peter Quilter’s stageplay End of the Rainbow. Produced by David Livingstone, it features creative input by Gabriel Yared (music), Ole Bratt Birkeland (cinematography), Melanie Oliver (editing), Alice Searby and Fiona Weir (casting), Kave Quinn (production design) and Jany Temime (costumes). Release date, Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau: 10 January 2020.