REVIEW: Judy (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – LD Entertainment / Pathé

The following is a review of Judy — Directed by Rupert Goold.

Rupert Goold’s Judy is a biographical picture about the final year of Judy Garland’s life. The biopic is based on the Peter Quilter stage musical End of the Rainbow, and the film mostly takes place in 1969 when Judy Garland (played by Renée Zellweger) relocated to the United Kingdom for work and to be able to afford a potential custody battle in court. The multi-talented star is, at this point in her life, a wreck. The American industries that made her a star now see her as unreliable, she is unable to pay her bills, she doesn’t eat, she is severely depressed, and she suffers from issues related to substance abuse. Her job in London represents one last moment in the spotlight to dazzle, use her stardom, and make the money she needs to keep her family together. Though she often hesitates to go on stage, it is only on the stage that she can find energy and satisfaction in her last year.

When the lights came up at the end of Judy, I was unaffected by the film. Before I left the theater, I took one last look at the audience. It seemed to me like the film had worked on most of the people in the theater, but it had by no means put a spell on me. Though I was disappointed by most of the film, I was particularly unimpressed by the final scenes. The predictable, and predictably tear-jerking, end to the film had, in my mind, been bungled as the filmmaker had aimed for a beautiful singalong but achieved ridiculousness instead. The final moments of the film felt unbelievable and inauthentic to me. Though I liked the central performance given by Zellweger, her character’s final moment on screen made me roll my eyes when I should’ve been weeping.

Rupert Goold’s film pales in comparison to both Dexter Fletcher’s terrific musical biopic Rocketman and Bryan Singer’s divisive but popular Bohemian Rhapsody. It certainly isn’t the overwhelming and crowd-pleasing tribute that Judy Garland deserved. Though there are one or two scenes with Judy Garland on-stage that are captivating, the musical numbers never capture the same level of emotion that both of the aforementioned films did. Also, two notable scenes featuring Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerquiera’s characters feel very contrived. Goold tries to balance the main narrative with several flashback scenes depicting a younger Judy Garland (played by Darci Shaw) being abused or mishandled in Hollywood early in her career, but I don’t think these stories work well together. Sometimes the flashbacks seem superfluous, and once or twice the flashbacks almost seem more interesting than the main narrative. Ultimately, I think they should’ve left every flashback, except for the first one, on the cutting room floor, as they distract you from the main narrative.

Rupert Goold’s Judy is a forgettable and predictable by-the-numbers biopic. Though both Jessie Buckley and Rufus Sewell make the most out of their frustratingly underwritten characters, this is just a bland star-vehicle for Zellweger. When Goold’s film is at its worst it is either dull or completely ridiculous, and when it is at its best it is entirely due to the central performance given by Renée Zellweger. Zellweger is about as convincing as she could be when her character isn’t on-stage, but her singing didn’t wow me as much as it perhaps should. This film rests entirely on Zellweger’s shoulders, but while it is true that her outstanding performance is compelling, she can only do so much to save the film, and, sadly, it wasn’t enough for me.

5.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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