Judy (2019) movie review
Judy follows Renée Zellweger as legendary actress and singer Judy Garland, as she reluctantly travels to London in order to perform several concerts and make enough money to support herself and her two kids, Lorna and Joey. Directed by Rupert Goold, the film is a unique character piece, showing a side of classic Hollywood that many may not know existed or would rather forget. In many ways, it is actually strikingly similar Joker (2019) in terms of its unique tone and commentary. Now, as with many films based on real people and events, I do not know much about Judy Garland or her life, so when I talk about the story and the way it portrays her I am not making a comment on who she actually was as a person, but simply who she is portrayed as in the film.
Being a bio-drama, the film is entirely centered on Judy and the events of her life. While mainly focusing on her time in London, the film also takes the time to show us past events in her life that led her there and shaped her into who she was. It is rather simple story-wise, as the writers took what they thought were the most important bits of information for the audience and placed them within the smaller narrative, filling in the gaps as to why she acts certain ways and allowing Renée Zellweger to completely steal the show and bring the character to life without being burdened with any expository dialogue or rushed scenes that try to fill in every day of her life up to that point.
The writing also does an excellent job with its background characters. We as the audience get to see the different relationships that Judy had with the people in her life, and how different a person she was depending on who she was with. Introducing these characters while keeping Judy front and center the entire time and showing the many different faces of her behind the scenes gives audiences the opportunity to see her in a whole new light multiple times throughout the film. This also gives the film the chance to paint a truly unique picture of who she really was and allows us as the audience to form our own opinion of her, having seen the positive as well as the negative aspects of her personality. Zellweger does an incredible job portraying the actress, especially given the difficult task it must have been to capture her numerous emotions, which at one time could see her singing and happy and laughing, and in the next scene breaking down and crying and yelling. On top of all that, her singing is also incredible, and will more than likely grant her an Oscar nomination, if not a win for best actress.
All that said, there are a couple things story-wise that do hold the film back a bit. While the events from Judy’s past that the writers choose to include are important and add depth to her character and often offer explanations for her actions, they could have been placed within the larger narrative more strategically. At some points throughout the film, it feels like you are suddenly being drawn away from the main plotline to take time for backstory, and while that information is beneficial, it causes some issues with the overall pacing of the film. The sudden shift slows the film down, as it takes a moment to process it and then get used to the new scene the film places you in, as well as figuring out why it is important at that moment and how it affected Judy later in her life. In addition, the film does suffer from one other thing that bio-dramas tend to, and that is being very typical with how it handles its subplots. While they all add to Judy’s character and who she was as a person, oftentimes when the film jumps to one of them it loses the unique feel of the rest of the film that it gets from focusing on its simple story of following Judy in London.
The technical aspects are on par with Zellweger’s performance, with every piece of the film doing its part to add to the viewing experience and the audiences’ overall understanding of the world that Judy lived in. The costume and makeup departments had the opportunity to shine here, crafting all of Judy’s outfits to fit her personality and match the event she was attending. The production design department also got the chance to show off, creating a beautiful picture of the late 1960s as well as some events from Judy’s childhood. The camera work and editing also add to the feel of the film, drawing the audiences’ eye to whatever is important at the moment while not being distracting or drawing attention to itself, allowing for Zellweger to be the complete center of attention whenever she is on screen.
Overall, Judy is a unique character piece focusing on the life of someone widely considered one of the greatest singers/actresses of all time. And if you still don’t see the connection I made to Joker, it is a character-driven piece following someone that society says they care about but do little to actually show it who struggles to make ends meet, and is often portrayed in a negative light due to all the negative influences in her life, leaving you with a character that you oftentimes feel sorry for and root for and other times realize they should not be acting the way they are, even given their circumstances. It is a pretty great film all around, from Renée Zellweger’s performance to the beautiful costumes and camera work, that is only held back by a few small elements throughout. The film probably deserves an 8, but the same reasons I would not watch Joker over and over again apply here, as it is often depressing and paints a dark picture of reality that most people would probably rather forget ever existed. 7/10.
So, Judy? Did you see it? What did you think? And what’s your favorite bio-drama, or one that you would like us to review? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to leave a like and a comment below letting us know!
-review by Rachel Grosselin