Zellweger is Oscar-worthy, the movie not so much.
Director: Rupert Goold (True Story)
Screenplay: Tom Edge, based on Peter Quilter’s stage play “End of the Rainbow”
Cast: Renee Zellweger (Chicago), Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose)
Runtime: 1 hr 58 min
By: John DeSando
“I used to listen to Judy Garland all the time - I love Judy Garland and her music. But I started to realize that if you keep singing like that, singing songs of being victimized by love over and over and over again, it can't help but have a profound effect on your life.” Diane Keaton
“Judy” is the saddest movie of the year, and a top contender for all time. The last year of Judy Garland’s (Renee Zellweger) life before she overdosed on drugs is depicted with a surgeon’s accuracy, and the days are counted in despair over her addictions and most of all the separation from her children. Nothing much is pretty, and most is desperate.
Not that I expect the docudrama should be a musical; it should at least be entertaining even in a dark way. To see this iconic entertainer holding a formidable place in the hearts of everyone who has been moved by the whimsy and hope of The Wizard of Oz is to get too much despair after almost two relentless hours of depression.
There is no wizard here, just Louis B. Mayer plying Judy with rhetoric and pills to keep her going through the many pictures she would do after her Oz triumph. She continues getting artificial help long after as she performs not for pleasure but to make enough to keep her children, ironically forcing her at the end to London, that adoring town, but without her kids.
The drama is punctuated by songs, sung expertly by Zellweger, and by her Oscar-worthy performance. But, of course, her voice is not Garland’s, nor is anyone’s. However, without the insight into her talent and formative years, it’s just a gifted Renee imitating the tics of a diva diving to her death at 47.
Thank goodness for a subplot involving two gay fans and their evening with her. It’s endearing and the best way to show how she impacted those on the margins of society. The final scene when she sings Rainbow involves the gay duo and is hokey but effectively sentimental and lyrical like the song itself.
Because most of us have grown used to idolizing Judy Garland, the film has a special mandate to show the formation of her formidable career and not just her desperate denouement so that we can enjoy her and understand her better. I propose the next Judy pic be a docudrama about the first half of her life. Now that would be only partially sad.
“I think without a doubt there will never be a voice like Judy Garland.” Mickey Rooney
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com