‘Judy’ is not notable for the narrative, but rather the accuracy of Zellweger’s portrayal of the legendary singer/wreck. It’s a scene, man.

 

 

There’s something about the smaller details in Renee Zellweger’s performance as Judy Garland that makes you wonder about the existence of spectral possession. Not being the biggest Judy Garland fan, but having seen her performances in archival footage, there are small details, down to hand movements and the arc of her shoulders in this film that makes you wonder what’s exactly on screen.

What could have been impersonation traverses the line between inhabitation and goes straight into what’s nigh-on reincarnation? Watching Zellweger in this film, the word that kept flowing through my mind was ‘transformative’.

Here, the actor stupendously nails the challenge inherent in playing Judy Garland on screen; her skills here are in the smaller moments – her eyes, how she holds her microphone, to the desperation in any given circumstance to be happy, be whole, be in the moment.

We occasionally, and somewhat tritely, flashback to Garland’s early days on the MGM lot, being made to down any number of any manner of pills so she can keep churning ‘em out for studio boss LB Mayer, and from downy eyed innocence to the wreck that Garland eventually became by her 1969 London gigs, you can all but assume this tragedy was inevitable. You take a history of substance abuse for a life-long craving for the kind of warmth only the spotlight can provide, and the conclusion you reach is simple: the poor woman never had a chance.

 

What could have been impersonation traverses the line between inhabitation and goes straight into what’s nigh-on reincarnation? Watching Zellweger in this film, the word that kept flowing through my mind was ‘transformative’.

 

The film itself is fine. If the focus was on a lesser performance from a lesser actor, it’s very much a by-the-numbers retelling of a famous person at a time and place in history. And while Bohemian Rhapsody could claim Rami Malek’s performance as a feather in its cap (playing fast and loose with the facts to an almost comical degree), Judy skates pretty close to the letter of history. Which is fine, but given the volume of musical biopics that are out there, but given how it all turned out, a big, fun time at the movies this is not. Garland was apparently a great deal more under the influence than she’s depicted here, but this isn’t a documentary and emotional truth is presented in spades where historical truth may be lacking. But while this film doesn’t take many risks, it eschews the kind of impressionistic free-for-all the recent Elton John biopic Rocketman took, which swung for the bleachers, and (again) save for Taron Edgerton’s performance, was all a bit much.

 

 

But it’s down to Zellweger, from the first moment to last. Occasionally, you see glimpses of her Bridget Jones’s Diary smirk or giggle, but there are moments that are all but uncanny. There’s only so much a good hairstylist and a pair of prosthetic teeth can do for you.

But this is a performance that is so good it’ll be the one she’s remembered for.

 

 

 

 

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