Director: Rupert Goold
Screenwriter: Tom Edge
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon
Critically acclaimed stage director Rupert Goold has moved from the stage to the big screen with Judy Garland biopic Judy, an examination of an all-time great stage and film presence that explores the deep rooted hurt that impacted the iconic figure so greatly before her premature death. Featuring an otherworldly, Oscar-winning performance from Renée Zellweger, Judy is one of the biopics of the year.
The film starts with a flashback that shows us Garland’s first steps into her acting and singing career as Dorothy Gale, the character from The Wizard of Oz that would come to make her popular but also be a cause of her mental instability. Judy wastes no time in establishing mistreatment in Garland’s youth as the reason for her issues in later life, her addiction to performing being presented with the implication that she was a star so in love with her craft and desperate to entertain that she sacrificed everything for it, even her life. Through the use of flashbacks, Judy paints a picture not only of the famous woman’s plight and struggles, but her almost incomparable talents too – Goold never loses touch of how and why the woman was and remains such an icon.
Featuring a number of close-ups that truly emphasise the quality of Zellweger’s performance, and a score that provides a rich underbelly for it, Judy not only captures the sadness and greatness of Judy Garland herself, but through focusing so tightly upon her also captures the incredible work of the make-up and costume design, each of which works to perfectly encapsulate the magic and optimism of the swinging sixties.
Despite obvious quality in these areas, Judy still very much remains a Renée Zellweger movie, much of the film’s impact coming from her performance. Not only is she a fantastic Garland, encapsulating the grace of the performer as well as her spontaneity and at-times child-like approach to things, but she provides a marvelous insight into the star from an empathetic point of view, achieving one of those great performances that not only honours the real-life person the actor is portraying but also reaches beyond that into something greater. She even performs the songs herself, and with an accuracy that seemed impossible to achieve, shaking the shackles of her more comedic work from her iconic role in Bridget Jones to provide a full embodiment of Judy Garland like nothing we’ve seen since the icon’s death – her acting alone is a good enough reason to watch this picture.
Rupert Goold’s contributions must not be dismissed as being invaluable however, the director leaving the “stage production” feel of his televised output – notably his “Richard II” episode of “The Hollow Crown” – to embrace wholly more cinematic storytelling techniques that Garland’s legacy felt worthy of, the most noteworthy moment coming in the final act when the director cuts between Judy and the audience in an emotive moment of connection that links the great star to each of us very effectively. Zellweger may have recreated Garland like never before, but Goold gave her the platform to appear so spectacular yet fragile.
It could be argued that this is one of the best biopics of the year, and it’s safe to say that Renée Zellweger certainly deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress at the 2020 Oscars. Never has Garland seemed so vulnerable, and so rarely has a biopic performance been so worthy of plaudits – Judy is simply spectacular.