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Judy (2019)

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Renée Zellweger was certainly impressive, what with the year-long vocal coach and the willingness to risk comparisons to Judy Garland, but I found the film a bit generic. 

The two scenes that held my interest were the party scene with Liza Minnelli and the London visit of the ex-husband played by Rufus Sewell. Both pointed to a wider context to Garland's life than the film was willing to provide. The only framing we get are the auditions and filming of The Wizard of Oz, and these are designed (somewhat effectively) to frame Garland as an unequivocal and absolute victim. Consequently, I found myself pushing back more than I imagine the film intended. The Liza cameo makes you question Garland's narrative that it is all about her younger kids, and Sewell's performance suggests he's seen cycles upon cycles of this sort of behavior. 

Even Stan & Ollie had more nuance. 

But I allow for the possibility that the film assumed Garland remains iconic enough that everyone will just know the parts of her life that are elided from the film. 

It's a delicious, high-wire act from Zellweger, but it seems to not have any ambitions beyond putting its lead into Oscar contention. 

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I wrote the following at Letterboxd:


This feels like a movie that was crafted to win Renée Zellweger a second Oscar, and it very likely could. She disappears into the role, and her singing has improved from Chicago (and it was good in Chicago)--not an imitation of Garland's voice, but a rich haunting voice burdened through a lifetime of abuse. The movie limits its focus to the final year of Judy Garland's life, with occasional flashbacks to her time filming The Wizard of Oz, and the balance works to create a tragic (and I mean TRAGIC) portrait of a great artist abused and manipulated throughout her too short life. However, at a certain point it starts to feel like misery porn, and there's not much cathartic other than two scenes that function as a very brief relief from Garland's suffering. A failed impromptu dinner with two gay fans of hers is not only a dramatic relief, but also a touching moment of tenderness and intimacy that the film needed more of. That scene does show the value of art and the ability of any great artist to touch and inspire countless others, although the tragic quality of the rest of the film leaves a "but-at-what-cost" question hanging over it, which unintentionally undermines some of the beauty of Garland's performances.

A shot in the penultimate scene hints at a much more fascinating idea and story about the desire for fame versus the desire to bring joy and comfort to as many people as possible and how those could overlap in toxic ways, but it feels like an afterthought in comparison to Judy being fired, being threatened by her ex, starting an abusive relationship, having to say goodbye to her children, being forcibly drugged as a child, etc. I found it to be pretty exhausting to watch, but my tolerance for witnessing abuse in any form has been drastically decreasing.

It ends exactly as one would expect (not pictures of Garland, the other way one would expect), having built to an iconic performance where both the pain of Judy's life and the people she inspired come together in a finale that is a reminder of what the film needed more of.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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