Judy is based on the stage play End of the Rainbow. It is a sturdy and competent music biopic, there seems to be one of these every year and this is a one of the good ones.
The film is set in 1968 during Judy Garland's final tour. She is suffering heavily from addictions which began when she was young on the set of Wizard of Oz. We see her as a young girl being essentially abused by the studio, given drugs, coerced into working through lunches, as well as hints of more sinister abuse. This gives us context for her in 1968 where she struggles to have successful relationships with anyone.
Her one passion seems to be her young children, she is in the middle of a custody battle with her ex-husband for them. She realises the only way to fight for them is to tour Britain, where she is still a headliner, in order to pay for the lawyers. Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland is an obvious Oscar contender, but, having given after it to Remi Malek last year for his performance as Freddie Mercury, and the academy being resoundingly criticised for it, her chances are slim.
Music biopics have a kind of checklist for performers - drug or alcohol addiction, difficult family life, overcoming odds. The unfortunate truth is Garland never really did manage to overcome her demons. It makes it a little more interesting, but the film has its fair share of cliches. Audiences may feel slightly cheated by never seeing Judy Garland at her best. We only really see her perform on this London tour. That said, we do see a few great songs. Part of Bohemian Rhapsody’s success came from the Live Aid scene. Seeing Queen in their absolute pomp made the movie feel like a concert. We don't really get this pay off here.
Zellweger has always been underrated as an actress. This is her first role in six years and this performance is quite a flex, her face is constantly twitching and eyes darting around the room. She has the look and energy of someone who is ready to explode, but has trained herself to contain it. She looks like an addict but it is not obscene. Zellweger takes risks and it is rewarded.
For a first role in six years I’m looking forward to seeing the second half of Zellweger's career which will surely be more successful than Garland's. The movie itself is more than fine. It was not quite as brave (or as good ) as Rocketman but vastly superior to Bohemian Rhapsody. These films tend to live and die with their lead performer and Zellweger elevates this good film to a great one.