Based on the stage play “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter, the new film “Judy” focuses on the last months of the life of actress/singer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger).
Most of us know of Judy Garland from “The Wizard of Oz” but the experiences of teen Judy (Darci Shaw) were anything but over the rainbow and, at least according to “Judy,” influenced the rest of her life.
The film introduces Garland as a 46-year old who is finding it harder and harder to cash in on her stardom. She’s broke and, for all practical purposes, homeless. When the latest hotel where she’s been staying “releases” her suite due to unpaid bills, she reluctantly packs her two youngest children, Lorna and Joey (Bella Ramsey and Lewin Lloyd, respectively), off to stay with their father and her fourth ex-husband, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell).
When a five-week gig in London seems to be the only hope of earning some much-needed cash, Judy doesn’t miss the irony of having to leave her children in order to be able to afford to be with her children.
Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in "Judy" (Roadside Attractions)
Upon her arrival at the Talk of the Town club where she’ll be performing each evening, things go badly from the very beginning. She refuses to rehearse and Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley), who is assigned as her keeper/assistant, has to go searching for her when Judy fails to show up for opening night.
If you didn’t already know Judy’s backstory, director Rupert Goold skillfully shows through occasional flashbacks how, as a teen contracted to MGM, the studio (personified in the film by Mr. Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) himself) basically controlled every part of her life from what she could eat to who she could date. Part of that control included dosing her with pills to either keep her awake during the long hours of filming or to help her sleep. She struggled with addiction the rest of her life.
Darci Shaw as the young Judy Garland in "Judy" (Roadside Attractions)
As a biopic of a celebrity gone too soon, “Judy” is a bit of a downer. Plagued as she was by problem after problem, Garland was, nevertheless, a consummate performer. Renée Zellweger reboots her own career with an Oscar-worthy performance as the titular character. Even though Zellweger’s signing doesn’t compare to Garland’s own magnificent voice, she still expertly channels Judy when singing songs like “Get Happy,” “The Trolley Song,” and, of course, “Over the Rainbow.”
I left the theater with feelings of sadness for the addiction that cut Judy’s talented but troubled life short at the age of 47 from an accidental overdose. I also felt compassion for her and those like her who struggle with addiction and the difficulties that come with it. As we all know, life isn’t always a rainbow, but seeing “Judy” and the struggles Garland went through filled me with gratitude-gratitude that stems from having supports in my own life that it seems Judy didn’t have: God, faith, prayer, as well as people who love me and help me get up and move forward when I stumble or fall. Perhaps if hearts are open to God and the redemption God freely offers, fewer people will end up with a story similar to Judy’s. For that I pray.