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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Triumph for Renée Zellweger
by James Colt Harrison

It’s always a chance for a performer to portray a real-life character, and it’s especially daunting when that character happens to be a world-famous star. However, Renée Zellweger has triumphed in her portrayal of actress/ singer Judy Garland in the bio-pic Judy. Without a doubt, Zellweger has the talent to give us a glimpse of Garland during the last few months of her life when things weren’t going too well for the former moppet of The Wizard of Oz fame. So far this year, Zellweger has given the top performance of female actors and stands a good chance of being nominated for an Oscar®.

Judy Garland was one of the most vulnerable and toughest of stars ever to come out of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film factory. Famous for her volatile nature and fragile health, Garland managed to survive a childhood of pep pills, sleeping pills, and diet pills allegedly administered by the studio doctors. She and fellow performer and great friend Mickey Rooney were subjected to horrendous working hours while they were teen-agers just so they could crank out picture after picture while they were hot box office attractions. In the film Judy, studio boss Louis B. Mayer (portrayed by  Richard Cordery) is shown as a stern father-figure and a no-nonsense studio head who always paid attention to the “bottom line” and his profit-making stars Garland and Rooney. The scenes of her teen years at MGM are shown in flashback with pretty Darci Shaw as the young Garland. It was during those crucial teen years that Garland started depending on “pills” to keep her going.

After signing with MGM in 1935, the studio was perplexed at what to do with the sprightly 13 year-old with the big voice. They finally put her into some Andy Hardy movies with Rooney and then into some great musicals such as Babes in Arms and Strike Up The Band. But the film that put Judy on the map was, of course, the now-classic Wizard of Oz in 1939. Her song, “Over the Rainbow” has become an enduring anthem for those who have lost their way. And Judy was always looking for her own rainbow.

MGM fired Garland in 1950 when she was being difficult and ill during the making of Summer Stock with Gene Kelly. Garland was having all sorts of problems following her first suicide attempt in 1947. When she frequently didn’t show up for filming, MGM executives became enraged. Her weight went up and down and is visible in various scenes of the movie. They gave her one last chance to film a special number for the film. It was choreographed by the great director/ choreographer Charles Walters, and the song was “Get Happy.” Judy looked terrific in the sequence and was gorgeous in her black outfit that showed off her luscious gams to perfection. It was the last picture Garland made at MGM. When the picture was released, it was a huge hit.

The firing by MGM was a great blow to Garland. It more or less kicked off her downward slide in her later career. Yes, she did make more films, but infrequently. She had a triumph when she made the Warner Bros hit A Star Is Born in 1954 with James Mason when she was nominated for an Oscar® as Best Actress. A few years later she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nod for the dramatic film Judgement at Nuremberg. But, there were no musicals.

It is the above-mentioned background that is needed in order to understand what is portrayed in the new film Judy. The star skidded into a nightmare of pills and alcohol as her career was on the wane by the winter of 1969. Zellweger has captured some of the quirky body movements of Garland and especially her lip movements and facial expressions.

The film portrays Garland’s last performance at the famous Talk of the Town nightclub in London. Judy had just married her fifth husband, Mickey Deans, portrayed by the devastatingly handsome Finn Wittrock, who was years younger than Judy. They had only four months together before she died of an overdose on June 22, 1969.

Zellweger had the guts to do her own singing in the film and carries it off professionally. She’s no Judy Garland, but then, who is? Zellweger does a sterling job capturing the fading Judy Garland, the impossible Judy Garland, and the magnificent Judy Garland.

(Released by Roadside Attractions/ BBC Films and rated “PG-13” for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking.)

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