First thing’s first – Renee Zellweger; she’s good. Really good. She’ll probably win an Oscar, but we’re not here to talk about that.
Portraying the titular Judy Garland in her famous run of 1960s London concert hall engagements, Judy too pivots back to pre-fame Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz ala Love & Mercy; still the standard in modern musical biopics. Until now most recognised in such a setting for her turn as Roxie Hart, when the narrative makes way for Zellweger’s full-throated and fairly lauded depiction Judy is at it’s best.
Peculiarly, the film however reaches it’s storytelling heights in the hark backs to 1930’s Hollywood where Zellweger is conversely absent; outlining the era with a surrealist, none too subtly dark sheen and absurdist quality that shrewdly, tragically rings ever truer given what we’ve come to know of the time and Garland’s own life. A birthday party that isn’t on her birthday with cake Judy can’t eat and water no one can swim in was a masterstroke in an otherwise very traditionally rendered film, nearly equalled by the bittersweet treatment of Mickey Rooney and resonance of the here towering Louis B. Mayer as this film’s own all knowing wizard of Oz.
Ticking off all the tunes one would expect from a Judy Garland biopic, to the film’s credit it confines itself to chapters which can comfortably be conveyed within two hours while too imparting a new dimension to her most famous number and arguably the most recognisable song in film history. In other more routine respects following the troubled star clichés with a barrage of name-drops and informative text scrawled across the final frames before those credits roll, Judy mostly passes the Walk Hard test yet devotees to the genre will duly recognise it’s tried hallmarks.
There are a lot of things that a lot of different people will want from a Garland biopic (that could very well be several hours long) and thankfully, instead of being all things to all people, Judy contents the runtime to some core thematic aspects of a very multifaceted life and the ones it wants to tell. Those who might expect an account of the issues raised by the #MeToo movement, to which her experiences have been widely associated, will appreciate the none too implicit emphasis on such in Garland’s early interactions with the studio system which are sadly mirrored in features of how she is treated in the later stages of her career.
As for her status as a queer icon and this strand’s very inclusion, the extents to which Garland was either aware, appreciative or concerned with this burgeoning fandom have been matters of debate. Exploring this dimension through the inclusion of two ardent fans who invite Garland to their home and in a manner that is aboundingly reflective of if distinctive from her own struggles depicted herein, a cathartic moment shared between Garland and one of the men is this film’s most heart-warming.
Judy is however mostly (and justly so) concerned with Garland herself and a life of long-endeared stardom which continues to fascinate not simply for it’s relevance within these spheres; it being Zellweger more than any of the attempts at magic weaved around her which, for all this film’s faults, brings Judy home.
Judy screened in Sydney thanks to Queer Screen, is in cinemas from October 17 and will screen as part of Westpac Openair Cinema on January 16 and as part of Moonlight Cinema in Sydney and Melbourne on January 21