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"JUDY"
(2019) (Renée Zellweger, Darci Shaw) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A once famous but now washed-up Hollywood star takes a singing gig in London in hopes of making enough money to pay off her debts and enable her to have her kids live with her again.
PLOT:
It's 1969 and Judy Garland (RENEE ZELLWEGER) is now a washed-up star, especially compared to her earlier years (played by DARCI SHAW) despite her then essentially be an indentured and constantly manipulated performer-servant working for studio head Louis B. Mayer (RICHARD CORDERY). Emotionally scarred by that, her addictions, depression and failed marriages, she has the reputation of being so unreliable and unstable that she's now broke and no longer has a house to raise her two young kids, Lorna (BELLA RAMSEY) and Joey (LEWIN LLOYD).

Accordingly, and after reluctantly leaving them with her ex-husband, Sidney Luft (RUFUS SEWELL), she takes a job working for London theater impresario Bernard Delfont (MICHAEL GAMBON) who books Judy for a several-week stint at his Talk of the Town nightclub. With Rosalyn Wilder (JESSIE BUCKLEY) assigned as her assistant for those performances, Judy manages to wow the audience, but repeatedly validates her reputation about being unreliable, sometimes showing up onstage intoxicated and belligerent toward the audience.

Things get better when a man she previously met at a party, bar manager Mickey Deans (FINN WITTROCK), shows up and sweeps her off her feet, soon becoming her boyfriend and then, quite quickly, her husband. But the demons she's fought all her life keep returning to undermine her fledgling success and happiness.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I'm certainly no expert when it comes to child stars and the psychological effect (and, usually, the accompanying toll) that fame, fortune and adulation have on them both during their heyday and then long after that's gone as they transition and then exist as adults. But with a few rare exceptions (such as Ron Howard) it seems the damage is usually quite significant.

And often the public, despite adoring them in their early public limelight existence, turn on them years later, either through simply no longer caring about them or accusing them of letting stardom go to their heads. In short, they view them in one form or another as damaged goods no longer worthy of their attention.

The "perfect" example of that is Judy Garland who shot to fame by playing Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" and then successfully transitioned into an adult star in her twenties. But few outside of Hollywood were aware of how the industry had treated her or her addiction to booze and pills, likely used to combat her depression that led to several suicide attempts. She made several comebacks over her life -- that only spanned 47 years -- but in the end she was pretty much a wreck on all fronts.

That's the focus of director Rupert Goold's biopic "Judy," based on Peter Quilter's stage play "End of the Rainbow" that's been adapted for the big screen here by scribe Tom Edge. Somewhat akin to last year's "Stan & Ollie" (about once-legendary Hollywood stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, now relegated to performing in small gigs for needed money), the film mainly focuses on Garland's final year (before her accidental overdose death) with some occasional flashbacks to her earlier times.

In those, she's played by Darci Shaw (who does a good job recreating the most familiar and publicly recognizable version of Judy), while in the main body she's portrayed by Renée Zellweger who, at first glance, and then mostly throughout, is pretty much unrecognizable from her own previous high profile work in films such as the "Bridget Jones" series, "Cold Mountain" and "Chicago."

It's too bad all of her work (and that of her makeup and hairstyling team) doesn't arrive in a film that's better. Mind you, it's not a train wreck like the protagonist's life, but it feels fairly pedestrian throughout and it's glacially paced at best. In fact, it's essentially just parts of the standard movie biopic where we see a young person achieve fame, only to let their demons and addictions ultimately undermine them.

Those early years are only seen in occasional flashbacks where the young actress enjoys her time with occasional costar Mickey Rooney, but otherwise is manipulated (and then some) by studio head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) who has a wicked witch style assistant micromanage Judy's eating, sleeping, and so on, depriving her of any joy in her life.

The main story focuses on Zellweger's version of the decades-in-the-making damaged character taking a several-week gig at a London nightclub (run by the underutilized Michael Gambon) after leaving her kids with her latest ex-husband (Rufus Sewell) who wants custody of them.

She thinks if she makes enough money she can buy a house and thus have them back with her, and believes that her new boyfriend-turned-husband (Finn Wittrock) can make that happen. But as her new temporary assistant (Jessie Buckley) discovers, she's a handful and then some to get up on the stage, all of which threatens to derail her latest comeback attempt.

There's plenty of potential present, and Zellweger simply knocks the performance out of the park (including doing her own singing) to the point that she has to be a lock to earn any number of Best Actress nominations.

But the pacing is so slow and the story and material so depressing that it's simply not that enjoyable or entertaining to watch. You feel bad for the character (in the past and present) but in the end you really don't want to spend any additional time with her, at least in this offering. For Zellweger's work alone, "Judy" earns a slight recommendation and a score of 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 26, 2019 / Posted September 27, 2019


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