Joining the cult of Judy

  • by David Lamble
  • Tuesday September 24, 2019
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Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in "Judy." Photo: David Hindley/Roadside Attractions
Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in "Judy." Photo: David Hindley/Roadside Attractions

What's the secret to creating a hit bio-pic about a person we feel we already know too well? Do as Rene Zellweger does in her moving homage to one of the last great entertainers, Judy Garland, and ignore all the naysayers who claim you're all wrong for the role, or that you shouldn't attempt to imitate that memorable voice, play it safe and lip-sync. In "Judy," Zellweger does it her way, and while not everyone will love her take on the Garland songbook, I predict many newcomers to the cult of Judy will sign up and even buy the CDs.

The fourth feature from British director Rupert Goold (with screenplay by Tom Edge), "Judy" backs Zellweger with a great supporting cast: Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, and Michael Gambon. It takes on the last year of Garland's life as she lands in London to headline a five-week, sold-out run at The Talk of the Town. This is 30 years after she was fired out of the MGM cannon as the little girl who just wanted to get back to her aunt and uncle's dustbowl Kansas farm in the film that's probably been playing somewhere every day since, "The Wizard of Oz."

While 12-year-old Judy may have been abused by handlers, hangers-on and especially big-studio executives, that was nothing compared to the battering the 40something diva receives from management, musicians, friends and adoring fans. All the while charming the hell out of everyone on and backstage, she manages to set out on a whirlwind courtship with her soon-to-be-fifth husband, Mickey Deans.

As she belts out some of Garland's best-loved songs, Zellweger demonstrates her thorough grasp of the qualities that allowed Judy to be not only one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th Century, but also a very special icon and even guardian angel to millions of gay men worldwide. With "Judy," Rene Zellweger joins a short list for award-season top honors with a performance I bet you won't be able to see just once.