Which Judy Garland do you want to remember? The little girl in the plaid dress and apron and those iconic red shoes, or the broken woman, the drug addict and alcoholic, who ended her career and life on stage in London?

In Rupert Goold’s biopic “Judy”, taken from the stage play “End of the Rainbow,” we get both, and both are scary, painful and ultimately glorious. Goold, a fairly new hand at features, does a solid job at the helm of his pictures. But then it’s a lucky guy who has Renée Zellweger in front of the camera.

We begin with Judy curled up in a chair like a frightened puppy, this broken, shaking Garland, once a legend, now a shipwreck of a human who sits struggling to hold on to reality. She has just taken three pills and washed them down with scotch.

While a curious audience waits in silence, she has to be literally dragged from her dressing room by her handlers, stood up in the wings and left there to pull herself together.

She holds onto the curtain for balance, and listens to the polite applause grow.

Then as a light from somewhere deep in her broken heart fills her eyes, she pulls herself erect like a gored matador who hears the cheering crowd, she swallows a mouthful of phlegm, takes a deep breath, and with both hands curled into defensive fists, walks out to find her light.

There is a painful moment of silence as her eyes scan the crowd filled with young ones who have heard the rumors, and the white-haired fans who remember the 12-year-old “Dorothy Gale.”

Then this Judy takes the mic, and walks forward to the lip of the stage as the pianist nervously plays out the opening notes, and in a trembling, cracking voice, she presses the mic to her lips, and slowly pulls up the first words of the classic heartbreaker, “By Myself.”

The old magic takes hold, and 12-year-old Frances Gumm, turned Dorothy Gale, turned Judy Garland emerges.

Renée, as Judy, will sing a few more of her songs, some glittered up with a chorus of Vegas dancing girls, and including one total disaster, but none of them approach this one.

We soon meet young Judy, played courageously by Darci Shaw, on the set of “Wizard of Oz” surrounded by the old monsters, the predatory studio bosses, and the careless handlers who restricted her diet and fed her pills to keep her going through 18-hour shooting days flit in and out of the early years. Those scenes are few but painful.

Judy’s five marriages are only touched on in the film. There is no Vincente Minnelli, father of Liza, here, who made her a star. We meet, briefly, two husbands, the manipulative Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), father of Lorna and Joey. Long divorced, he now takes away from Judy the first of her three kids, Liza, who played the most important part in her mother’s later years; she appears with only one line in the film.

Minnelli refused to be connected in any way with the story.

There is one husband, the oily, pretty-boy fifth husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who went right from her gravesite to his publisher to lock in his book about her.

In “Judy,” the remarkable Renée Zellweger (who burned Roxie Hart forever into the heart of cinema history in 2002’s “Chicago” ) sings all the songs. There is no atrocious voice dubbing here. Renée uses her own voice as she did in “Chicago.”

Renée’s Judy isn’t flawless; I can’t think of a biopic that ever was. She doesn’t, of course, have those famous teary orbs that broke the hearts of Van Johnson, Gene Kelly and millions of fans, but then at the end at age 47, when she appeared on the London stage, even those lights were dimmed.

After all is said and done, “Judy” emerges as a loving tribute to one of show business’s greatest stars and magnificent voices, and happily, a trip back to the Oscar night for Zellweger.

 

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.