Judy movie review: Renée Zellweger's film is exceptionally shot and entertaining, but easily forgettable
The film is directed by theatre legend Rupert Goold, so it is not surprising that it feels very much like a play.
I am going to say two things that I don’t think film goers think about nowadays – firstly Judy needed to be a little longer in run time – it is a biopic that could have been more compelling with backgrounds and character development far more fine tuned towards the viewer’s consumption and emotional investment levels.
And secondly, one of the big losses in cinema over the last decade has been the absence of Renée Zellweger – watching Judy makes it obvious that she’s an immense talent but aside from stuff like Cold Mountain and the Bridget Jones movies she’s always been on the fringe of stardom. In Judy, Zellweger shreds every second of her appearance, even while handed predictable story beats this woman is a dynamo and wholly understanding of the lack of depth in the material. Judy, in that sense, is an exceptionally well shot and entertaining biopic, but is easily forgettable. Zellweger’s performance alone, however, makes the film worth seeing.
The film takes us through the twilight of Judy Garland’s career when she performed back to back shows in London back in 1969, though it is fair to say that it is obvious some artistic licence has been taken in this re-telling of the true story of a fading American icon. The film is directed by theatre legend Rupert Goold, so it is not surprising that it feels very much like a play with a powerhouse performance at its center.
We are invited to follow a biopic template as we learn that Garland experienced setbacks such as abuse, addiction, failed marriages and the insecurities that come with being a celebrity on the verge of being forgotten. The story then takes us through the tumultuous time when Judy took on the London gig as a means to be able to take care of her kids. As it may be clear to you, the film combines all the classic biopic elements, though it is nowhere near as memorable as the classics in the genre. The film does maintain the fact that it’s not reinventing the wheel but primarily fixated on presenting the best versions of the elements that it does have control over, juggling all the necessary visual beats admirably.
Goold mixes up the biopic check list method through flashbacks where Judy appears as a teenager (played brilliantly by Darci Shaw) with a very grounded but unsettling depiction of how young women are easy prey for men of power in the film industry. The switch back and forth between the past and present lands Judy in an awkward grey area that offers an extremely effective performance, but half baked character explorations of the meat and bones of the character. Even by the end of the film Judy’s persona is not fully clear to us, blighting intended opportunities for genuine emotional connection as Goold puts too much energy into genre staples without offering any truly unique ideas.
The attention to details are present though – the film benefits from striking costume and production design work and Zellweger is surrounded by a bunch of of supporting characters that help elevate the film with some memorable entries – such as Rufus Sewel who plays her ex husband. Goold seems well-equipped to understand, if not fully equipped to reflect, what it takes to make a movie which doesn’t feel like Oscar bait while also actively intending to earn his lead a golden statue. After all, just watching Zelwegger makes this film worth seeing; almost unrecognisable in her terrific make up and costume, she proves fiercely that even in the face of straightforward and predictable characters there is so much depth to explore and bathe the audience in a performance so skilful that they forget how threadbare the plot is.
This may ultimately not be an all time classic, but you will likely enjoy Judy on whichever format you watch it in – but since it is in theaters this weekend, albeit in limited shows, you must certainly check it out on the big screen.
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