Picture skinny little Renee Zellwegger buying a new area rug from RH Modern, and deciding she can get it into her Brentwood house by herself. She pulls it from the front, she pushes it from the back, she doubles it up and rolls it over. Eventually she gets it in, and lays down on it, exhausted. It’s just a beige wool-and-silk blend with the slightest of textural interest, but goddammit, she got it through that door all by herself.
This is Judy, in which Renee, as skinny little Judy Garland, yanks this slug of a movie – via an incredible performance and sheer will – to its conclusion.
Before we get to Renee’s Judy, we have to sit through a flashback of Louis B Mayer manipulating a young Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz, which goes on three times as long as it needs to because the filmmakers think they have to show us what a terrible childhood she had. We know. Anyone interested in this movie knows Garland’s history. If you’re going to use this hacky flashback device, at least reveal something new.
Finally, we get to late-60s Judy, in a fabulous pantsuit. She’s broke (we know) and forced to dump her kids – Lyanna Mormont and a six-year-old Peter Lorre impersonator – at her ex-husband’s so she can wander the LA night for a place to sleep. She bumps into daughter Liza at a swingin’ party, but if this had actually happened it would come up on my Gay Milestones calendar alert, so it’s conjecture. Judy meets a hustler named Mickey and crashes at his pad. The movie thinks it’ll be too Harold and Maude-ish (even though Judy is barely cougar age) to show whether they slept together, so we have to assume from Finn Wittrock’s jawline that Judy did what any gay man would and boned him.
Judy has to perform in London to earn money to keep her kids out of the clutches of her ex, so she’s off, and once we’re there and Renee has a wardrobe full of amazing size-zero costumes, we can finally watch this movie. Renee pulls out all the Chicagostops to give us great renditions of Judy on stage, and while she treats her personal assistant like shit, she shows a soft spot for the “fairies”, the term she uses for her gay fans. Different time, different wokeness…
Garland’s addict meanness, which no one likes to mention especially this movie, was well known and could have been conveyed with something as simple as eyebrows. At the end of her career, Judy wore a severe arched brow, but it’s clear the filmmakers wanted Zellwegger’s face to remain more open and generous, to garner as much sympathy as possible. They didn’t have to go full Dunaway, but skipping a detail like this while trying to copy everything else so exactly shows a dishonesty.
Nonetheless, Zellwegger is terrific. It’s almost surreal how her face morphs scene to scene from her own to Garland’s to someone entirely distinct from either (Judee Garlegger?). The spectacle of the performance takes us in and out of the picture the same way Garland’s drug addiction took her in and out of the picture, and by the end, as she sits barefoot on stage singing Over the Rainbow, we weep as much for our loss of Judy Garland as we do in gratitude to Renee Zellwegger for allowing us to see her once more.
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