Judy is only the second feature from director Rupert Goold, but it is certainly an assured outing. It dramatises Judy Garland’s (Renée Zellweger) 1969 visit to London for a series of concerts aimed at revitalising her stuttering career. Along the way, she meets and romances fifth husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), irks and ultimately wins over show manager Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley), and struggles with the drug and alcohol addiction that has dogged her since her MGM-contract childhood. This is a moving exploration of a figure crippled by her own legend, unable to cope with the extreme weight of expectation and adulation. The question is, what’s the point?
The movie hankers after the lavish production values that characterised Garland’s own films. Tasteful colour palette follows tasteful colour palette; the costumes are gorgeous. Goold and screenwriter Tom Edge seem determined to wring every last drop of knowing period detail and high spectacle out of the film. 1960s cultural references are thrown around like so many amphetamines. “I love the Beatles! How about Judy and the Rolling Stones!” crows Deans after a montage of Garland wandering through a twee Mary Quant-ized London. Gabriel Yared’s lush soundtrack punctuates every moment of the protagonist’s freefall, essentially detracting from rather than adding to its effect. But Ole Bratt Birkeland’s cinematography saves the picture from becoming saccharine: he frames Judy as a vulnerable figure turned away from the camera, an icon caught off-guard.
Ultimately, though, the film hangs on Zellweger’s central performance. She mimics the star’s physique uncannily – helped by eye-widening makeup and false teeth – and at times one almost forgets that the diminutive woman charming hotel staff and band members isn’t actually Garland. Zellweger does a good job of conveying the actress’s deep unhappiness and trauma, the loneliness of the icon who knows she’s a moneymaking pawn. Occasionally, though, it feels as though she is concentrating so hard on looking the part that she forgets to be it. Flashback scenes to Judy’s youth are less effective, treading well-charted territory – the unrequited crush on Mickey Rooney, the uppers and downers fed to the starlets to keep them peppy on set.
Judy doesn’t add anything new to the Judy Garland myth, but it rehearses the star’s woebegone existence with affection and aplomb. A sequence where Judy connects with a couple of gay superfans (Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira) is heavy-handed but ultimately provides the film with its most convincing moments. It’s in its flights of imagination, not its close imitation of life, that the picture moves.
Judy is released nationwide on 4th October 2019.
Watch the trailer for Judy here: