Judy (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

The Wizard of Oz (1939) was one of the movies my grandmother would show me regularly. It was a childhood favorite, and my love for it has only grown over the years. Until last year, it was my only experience with Judy Garland, but I watched her version of A Star is Born (1954), which also led to me learning more about the actress. Her story is tragic and compelling, and I felt that Rupert Goold’s film, Judy (2019), does a good job of conveying this idea with an outstanding performance by Renée Zellweger.

Judy is a straightforward biopic, but Zellweger and the story of Judy Garland added up to something special

In 1968, Judy Garland (Zellweger) has fallen onto hard times and is finding it difficult to make money. She struggles with the idea to leave her children with their father, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), as she needs to take a tour in London that is full of sold-out shows. Judy suffers from depression, loneliness, and a level of stage fright while being in London. 

The film flashes back a few times to young Judy (Darci Shaw) – right before landing the role as Dorothy – and during the time leading up to it. These moments help to establish why Judy struggles with so many things, and even why she’s considered “difficult” by the industry at that point. I really appreciate a biopic that chooses to only show a small sliver of the person’s life, rather than try and cover all the moments. This particular time in Judy’s life is extremely telling to her as a person, and I got a strong sense of who she was. Goold’s shot choices (at the deft hands of cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland) really demonstrate Judy’s feelings of isolation. 

While I don’t think Zellweger’s voice is nearly as impressive as Garland’s, I loved all the songs performed in the film. Discussing what songs were used feels like it could be a spoiler, so I’ll refrain – but there were at least two performances that brought me to tears. I also loved the look of these scenes, as the lighting and the framing of the shots really looked outstanding. During one number, the world around Judy goes dark and the lights behind her look like stars…I thought it was absolutely breathtaking. 

I do have a few problems with the movie, however, with the worst being the pacing. There are a few moments that really drag the film to a halt that lead to me checking my phone, which is something I usually do not do in a theater…but it was boring at times. Luckily, those times were very few, and the moments that worked were outstanding. There is a scene of her spending time with a couple of die-hard fans,  basically as a result of her loneliness. It’s a powerful scene, and it even pays off later in the film. 

Final thoughts…

 Judy isn’t a movie everyone is going to love, but I truly enjoyed. There are some great music and an amazing performance. Sure, there are some lulls and some of Judy’s choices are absolutely frustrating, but it works. Judy earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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