TIFF19: Judy

In her late 40s, Judy Garland is down on her luck, near destitute in every way but loaded with debt, desperate to make just enough money to keep her kids with her but never quite sober enough to make it work. In America, her reputation for being unreliable practically a national headline. The real money is in London, but that’s a whole ocean away from her kids. But needs must.

The thing is, Judy’s demons are portable. They travel with her. Her engagements do not run smoothly. We flash back to her early days in the studio system, circa The Wizard of Oz. Studio head Louis B. Mayer is a total dick. He steals her childhood and replaces them with pills. Pills for everything: to pep her up, knock her out, thin her down, keep her going for 18 hour days. Judy’s addictions are traced with a very straight line back to these early days, before she’s even old enough to question them. Her parents practically sell her to the studio and she’s completely at the mercy of people who just want to exploit her.

But that voice, that talent, those unforgettable movies: it wasn’t Judy who got rich on them.

These shows, the London shows, are some of Judy’s last. She will be dead in 6 months, and the fact that she is waning is clear to all. A good day means a fantastic show: the legend is still in there somewhere. But there are bad days, and very bad shows.

Judy is not a biopic, it’s a very small sliver taken mostly from the end of her life. It is 0% glamour. This movie is a performance piece. It is a 100% ‘for your consideration’ love letter to the Academy for Renee Zellweger to be considered for her Oscar, please (in fact, she’s already got a Best Supporting, but rumour is, it’s a little lonely up there on her mantelpiece).

I never quite forgot that I was watching Renee, but I did often see Judy (and Sean, being less familiar with Judy, saw Liza), so she was doing something right. She was doing a LOT right: she channels Judy’s voice, singing more so than speaking. And she nails the spastic mannerisms of a pill-popper, jerking painfully across the screen. The total effect is an awful lot of sympathy for an icon who really just wanted to be a regular woman. But if you’re not a fan of Judy, there may not be much there for you. There isn’t a plot. There’s mostly just going to and from the venue, with gin and tonics in between. Is it a great, meaty role, well performed, with much to be admired? Absolutely, taking up so much space it leaves room for little else.

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15 thoughts on “TIFF19: Judy

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    It saddened me to learn that “[Louis B. Mayer] steals her childhood and replaces them with pills. Pills for everything: to pep her up, knock her out, thin her down, keep her going for 18 hour days.” Achieving fame can come at a very high price.

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  2. Invisibly Me

    Thank goodness Renee nailed it, it’s a big name and a distinctive voice to live up to, and with the whole film being centred on that it was make or break being hinged on her performance. Fab review, will have to check this one out now it’s hit DVD.
    Caz xx

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  3. Lisa Coleman

    Love Judy & the tragedy of her life is unconscionable. Like so many actors & actresses, singers & musicians whose lives are “not what they appear” & leave this life way too soon. Nice review!

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  4. Birgit

    I love Judy Garland and wished she had her father with her but he died just before she really became famous. She was a real mess and was never given the proper help that s(e needed…today would be a different story. Mayer was an ahole like all the other big studio heads but I don’t think they would have plied her with the uppers and downers etc… if they really knew how harmful the would be. Not quite a great reason for the ignorance but they would not have given these drugs to her knowing how t(sir “property” would cost them so much money later one from all the late times she appeared on set and caused many uproars. They neve would have thought in a sympathetic or empathetic way no matter what.

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