Renée Zellweger shines as Judy Garland, but the movie disappoints

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens Wide

Friday 27
2.5 out of 5

Few actors have careers as unusual as Renée Zellweger. For a moment in the ’00s it seemed she could do no wrong: she was bankable and a critical favourite. But after a string of flops, she disappeared for six years, only to re-emerge as her signature character (Bridget Jones) in 2016. The movie was terrible, but she was as strong as always.

Now, Zellweger is back in awards contention for her work as Judy Garland in Judy. The film breaks with the biopic formula by focusing on the last year of Garland’s life, which gives it an edge over more predictable Wikipedia-dramas like Ray or Walk the Line.

It’s 1968. Judy Garland is so broke she can’t buy a vowel. A succession of failed marriages have left her penniless, studios want nothing to do with her, yet somehow she still has to provide for her two youngest children (Lorna and Joey Luft).

To generate income, Garland agrees to a five-week residency in London where she remains a draw. Barely able to control her speed addiction, she struggles to keep it together to fulfill her contract. She seems on autopilot during the day, and only comes to life on stage. Flashbacks reveal how MGM manipulated and exploited her mercilessly, directly implicating the studio system for the eating and sleeping disorders she endured throughout her career.

There is no shortage of drama in Judy Garland’s life, yet the use of it in the film is unbalanced. Her unravelling is frequently interrupted by musical numbers that run far longer than they should. Sure, they’re a fantastic showcase for Zellweger. But they stop the movie cold.

Judy contains well-crafted scenes and strong performances. But the film never comes together. A particular sequence of Garland befriending a gay couple shortly after homosexuality had been decriminalized in the UK is touching and sheds light on the artist’s empathy towards the queer community. Insights like this (and more of Jessie Buckley as Judy’s personal assistant) could have made a huge difference.