sun 21/07/2024

Judy review - Renée Zellweger's bravura screen comeback | reviews, news & interviews

Judy review - Renée Zellweger's bravura screen comeback

Judy review - Renée Zellweger's bravura screen comeback

The 'Cold Mountain' star makes a spectacular case for a second Oscar

Soulmates: Renée Zellweger plays Judy Garland

“She sang from her soul,” Judy Garland’s youngest daughter, Lorna Luft, once said of her world-renowned mum. So it’s right to give the role of this legendary entertainer to Renée Zellweger, an actress who, in the new biopic Judy, acts from her soul.

There may be people out there (Tracie Bennett for one, who played Garland in the London and Broadway stage play by Peter Quilter on which this film is based), who approximate those singular vocals more precisely, but it’s difficult to imagine a more empathic meeting of modern-day screen star and ongoing icon. The early Oscar buzz in this instance is entirely deserved.

What’s especially gratifying is that the movie surrounding Zellweger is as good at she is. Marking only his second feature film, the redoubtable theatre director Rupert Goold (Ink, King Charles III) displays a deep connection to the material, not least in capturing the mores of an age in which his heroine’s quest for kindness and compassion was at odds with the self-destructive impulse that cut short her life in 1969 at age 47 in London’s Chelsea. That, in turn, was a mere three decades on from the eternal yearning Garland brought to the screen in The Wizard of Oz, and, yes, the film does include "Over the Rainbow".

Finn Wittrock as the fifth husband of Judy Garland in 'Judy'

No mere one-person parade, Tom Edge’s finely tuned screenplay finds the human ebb and flow in the dark, seemingly-deserted London to which a homeless Garland fled to recoup her losses during a contentious season at The Talk of the Town, leaving her two younger children behind in the American care of the third of her five husbands, Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell). Daniel Cerqueira and especially Andy Nyman, who seems to be everywhere these days, are wonderful as two gay men who are seen taking Judy into their hearts – and home. New York stage actor Finn Wittrock, (Pictured above) playing husband number five Mickey Deans, neatly captures the excitement, and danger, of finding himself in thrall to a personality at once exuberant, needy, and fatally self-lacerating.

Liza Minnelli, Garland's eldest daughter, gets a fleeting cameo (Gemma-Leah Devereux takes that role), while her half-siblings Lorna and Judy mostly exist to be abandoned by their fretful yet clearly adoring mum: a climactic phone conversation to them from a London call box (remember them?) makes one wonder how an impecunious Garland had enough small change to call Los Angeles. (More to the point, why doesn't she call from her hotel suite and let impresario Bernard Delfont, here played by a stern-faced Michael Gambon, foot that bill?)

The songs, some achingly familiar and others less so, are sung by Zellweger herself, a onetime (and brilliant) screen Roxie in Chicago who may not quite capture Garland’s uniquely burnished sound – on that front, Bennett has the edge – but entirely finds the amalgam of fragility and fury that drove the entertainer forward for as long as was possible. Best of all, entering territory encrusted with the trappings of camp, Goold and his leading lady pare all that away to peer deep into the heart of darkness that overtook a shining talent whose lustre is at once honoured and amplified by this film.

Zellweger finds the amalgam of fragility and fury that drove Judy Garland for as long as was possible


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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