Renée Zellweger is not the first actress to portray Judy Garland. She is, however, the second to portray Garland in the later period of her life and career.
The first was Judy Davis, in the made-for-TV movie “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”. Davis was rewarded handily with a Golden Globe and an Emmy, among other awards. Zellweger, who already has an Oscar (for “Cold Mountain”), will no doubt be nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and stands a very good chance of winning, for her career-reviving performance in the feature film “Judy” (LD Entertainment).
It is Zellweger’s Garland that is the one and only reason to see the movie, a loose adaptation of Peter Quilter’s play “End of the Rainbow”. The Judy Garland of the late 1960s is a bloody mess. With a few failed marriages, a grown daughter out on her and two more adolescents still at home, she is plagued by financial disaster and a reputation for unreliability driven by her addiction to pills and alcohol. Through flashbacks to her time under studio head and control freak Louis B. Mayer, who cherished her voice but obsessively drugged her to keep her thin and perky, we come to understand what became a lifelong addiction issue.
Basically homeless, with children Lorna and Joey in tow, and performing for $150 in cash when she can get gigs, Judy is forced to leave her son and daughter with contentious ex-husband Sid (Rufus Sewell) in order to get work. In other words, she has to leave her children in L.A. so she can go to London to perform at the Talk of the Town and make enough money so she can be with her children again. Before leaving for London she meets young (and hot) entrepreneurial musician Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who unexpectedly sweeps Judy off her feet.
In London, she meets with Talk of the Town owner Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon), who is semi-aware of the gamble he has taken booking Garland. She is left in the care of Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) who, after an unsuccessful rehearsal, still manages to get Garland dressed, made-up and onstage for her show. Pre-show jitters aside, Judy slays! But this, unfortunately, sets up a kind of pattern. One of the highlights in her life, and in the movie, is when Judy meets a gay couple (played by Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira) at the stage door. The pair, who have had their own share of hardships, form a bond with the troubled diva.
Sadly, Garland’s luck continues on a downward trajectory. Mickey shows up in London, full of business propositions and ideas. Judy has a proposition of her own – marriage to Mickey! The marriage hits the skids as Mickey’s business concepts fail. Sid also appears in London to talk to Judy about taking custody of Lorna and Joey. But it’s a TV interviewer, asking personal questions, that sends her over the edge, resulting in a drunken Judy taking the stage with disastrous consequences.
Arriving in theaters as it does during the 50thanniversary of Garland’s untimely passing, “Judy” is a long overdue big screen homage to one of the most important performers of the 20thcentury. Even 20 years into the 21stcentury, her impact can still be felt. It’s to Zellweger’s credit as an actress and singer that Garland finally gets the tribute she deserved.