Release Date(s)2019 (December 24, 2019)
Studio(s)Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D-
There aren’t many performers who can claim single-name recognition. Today we have Beyoncé, Cher, Bono, and Drake; in earlier days Garbo, Twiggy, Liberace, and Donovan. The new motion picture Judy relates events in the last year and a half in the life of one of the most loved of them all, Judy Garland.
Judy (Renee Zellweger) is trying to raise two young children and resurrect her career. Her reliance on drugs, a self-destructive trajectory, and a reputation for missing performances and executing them sloppily means no one will hire her and no manager will handle her. She’s in danger of losing custody of her children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd), to their father, her former husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), because she is homeless after selling her Los Angeles home to pay bills. So when an offer comes in to perform at a nightclub in London, she jumps at the chance.
Rail thin, insecure, and plagued by insomnia, Judy is the product of a childhood bullied by MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery), who repeatedly demands that she follow orders so as not to hold up production on his pictures. That means taking pills to sleep, other pills to be alert for early morning calls, and still others to keep her weight down. We see young Judy (Darci Shaw) practically cowering in his presence. Her weight was monitored and she was always hungry. She made film after film for the studio at great cost to her, emotionally and physically.
Frequent flashbacks provide background for the disarray of the last months of her life. In London, publicist Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) is assigned to be at Judy’s side, get her to performances, and see to her comfort during her engagement. Rosalyn soon finds this a 24-hour task. Lonely in a foreign country, Judy spends time with a young American bartender, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), whom she had met stateside. He offers emotional support and suggestions about her career, and eventually the two marry. Mickey would be Judy’s fifth husband.
But the demons from her past still haunt her and her shows at London’s Talk of the Town are uneven. Peter Quilter’s script focuses on the physically exhausting and emotionally wrenching sold-out concerts produced by showman Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon). Sometimes, she wows her audiences. Other times, she rambles, forgets lyrics, and seems so disoriented that audience members boo and pelt her with breadsticks.
Playing a famous person, especially one who left behind an abundance of film and TV appearances, is difficult. Ms. Zellweger may not seem the perfect choice, but she does an exceptional job of capturing the essence of Judy Garland. Thinner than we remember from earlier roles, with a hairdo that Garland favored during the period, and assorted mannerisms and vocal inflections that are letter perfect, she embodies the singer at a low point in her life.
Ms. Zellweger does her own singing, and her renditions of By Myself, Get Happy, Come Rain or Come Shine, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart, and Over the Rainbow are uncannily like Judy’s, including her habit of draping the microphone cord over her shoulder, sashaying across the stage while building a lyric dramatically, and hitting high notes that reach up as if drawing heavenly inspiration.
According to family and friends, Judy Garland was very funny. You can see this in her TV talk show guest appearances on Youtube. Yet the film downplays her sense of humor. Despite her insecurity, money woes, and emotional turmoil, she forges on, and this is the striking aspect of the film. She does what she has to do to reclaim her children and career, both inextricably entwined.
Based on the play End of the Rainbow, the film concentrates on the downfall of a glittering life. Broke and unable to sleep, eat, or rehearse, Judy Garland is desperate to hold onto the love of her children. Yet, even in the darkest of times, her legendary genius still glimmers.
Rated PG-13, Judy contains a dazzling performance by Renee Zellweger that will surely garner an Academy Award nomination. Without mimicry or parody, she superbly channels the real Judy.
The Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen format of 2.39:1. The color palette varies from bright primary colors in Judy’s stage costumes—some in bold prints, some glittery, others with detailed fabric designs—and bright red lipstick to a yellowish hue in flashback scenes of the young Judy at MGM. Judy’s London suite is appropriately luxurious, with furnishings that reflect quiet elegance. Backstage scenes are darker and heavily shadowed as we watch Judy get ready to make her entrances. The Los Angeles scenes early in the film are bright with sunny exteriors. In London, most scenes are interiors—Judy’s rehearsing and performing environment. A lavish production number in which Judy is backed by a chorus of dancing girls is reminiscent of 1950s Technicolor movie musicals.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional Spanish and English subtitles for the hard of hearing. There is excellent balance between instrumental music and vocals in the performance numbers, which is especially notable since Zellweger sang live for most of them. In a climactic moment, after Judy wows the audience with Come Rain or Come Shine, she segues into a quieter number with only piano accompaniment. The silence of the audience in this scene is a testament to the singer’s ability to hold an audience enthralled, and contrasts with an earlier scene in which an audience expresses its loud, angry dissatisfaction with a bad performance. Zellweger’s vocal mannerisms match those of the real Garland. She captures Judy’s characteristic cadences, her voice rising on certain words and slightly slurring others. She pauses in odd places and breaks into her own line of thought to change the subject. When she sings, there’s a breathy, somewhat nasal quality.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include the featurette From the Heart: The Making of Judy, an image gallery, the theatrical trailer, and a few trailers for other Lionsgate releases. A Digital code is included on a paper insert within the package.
From the Heart: The Making of Judy – This is a disappointing extra—more a promo than an in-depth look at the genesis or production of the film. Renee Zellweger and director Robert Goold provide brief sound bites (“She always had hope and that’s magic”) while Zellweger notes that the purpose of the film is to “look into the human side of this icon.” There is some behind-the-scenes footage, but little in the way of substantial content, ending with the film’s title in bold red glittering letters.
Judy Image Gallery – Color still photos from the film are shown in slideshow format as soft music plays. No photos of the real Judy Garland are shown, which is a shame since they would offer an interesting comparison to Zellweger’s version.
Also From Lionsgate – Theatrical trailers from four other Lionsgate releases are included: Juliet, Naked, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Words of Love, and Whitney.
– Dennis Seuling