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New Release Review - JUDY

judy review
A troubled Judy Garland takes a residency at a London nightclub.

Review by Ben Peyton

Directed by: Rupert Goold

Starring: RenΓ©e Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Finn Wittrock

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By the late 1960s, Hollywood had virtually shunned former starlet Judy Garland (RenΓ©e Zellweger). Having earned a reputation for being unreliable and unpredictable, her debts were spiralling out of control and she was in danger of losing the one thing she cherished above all else, her children.

judy review
In desperate need of money, Garland embarked on a five-week headlining slot at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London, which is where director Rupert Goold places most of his film's action. Flashbacks are used every now and then as Garland's time filming The Wizard of Oz is examined, focusing on the mental and physical abuse she received at the hand of studio executive Louis B. Mayer (a despicably oily Richard Cordery). Exhausted and longing for a normal life, she pops pills to help her sleep, to help her stay awake and to help suppress her appetite in one of many heart-breaking scenes that goes some way to explain her erratic behaviour.

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As some of these habits remain in her adult life, Zellweger is virtually unrecognisable as Garland, capturing her insecurities, anxieties and desperate craving for affection with fascinating attention to detail. And, what a voice she has. Whether it’s belting out ‘The Trolley Song’ or letting her guard down to reveal her inner turmoil in an intimate confessional version of ‘Over the Rainbow’, Zellweger is simply sensational as she gives her all in a magnificent performance.

judy review
Paired up with personal assistant Rosalyn (Jesse Buckley), there are moments of humour to be found amid the hardship. The frequent battles to get Garland ready for the stage and her amusing handling of hecklers entertains as glimpses of her star power shine through, but these moments are few and far between, and bittersweet. There’s a rather cruel television interview that focuses on her strained relationship with her children, and we meet two of her husbands (Rufus Sewell and Finn Wittrock), which shows her private life is every bit as turbulent as her professional life.

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Other moments unfortunately don’t quite hit the intended target. There’s a sub-plot involving two fans (Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira) that, other than celebrating Garland’s position as a gay icon, feels completely out of place with the tone of the film and certainly doesn’t add to the drama. The finale becomes a schmaltzy, unnecessarily upbeat ending, making a nonsense of what was to come just six months later.

judy review
Nevertheless, Judy is a fascinating insight into one of Hollywood’s most tragic stories and worth watching for Zellweger’s remarkable showing, but, with braver choices more in keeping with Garland’s real-life journey down that yellow brick road, it could’ve been so much more.

Judy is in UK/ROI cinemas now.


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