Judy, directed by Rupert Goold and starring Renée Zellweger, is a new biopic about Judy Garland, legend of the stage and screen. Unfortunately, despite a committed performance by Zellweger in the lead role, the film is far too conventional for its own good, failing to give its iconic subject the treatment she deserves.
The movie specifically focuses on the later period of Garland’s life, after her acting career has finished and she is struggling to recapture her former popularity by setting out on a stage tour. Although the story is interesting enough by itself thanks to the fact that Garland is such a well-known and beloved figure, the way in which it is presented is very by-the-book and straightforward.
Granted, the film is based on a stage play by Peter Quilter, but the movie feels like a dreadfully dull biopic that relies on its big star and cherished subject to push it into awards territory. In reality, the film only has one or two moments that are truly emotionally impactful, and the rest of the movie is dreadfully dull and meaningless.
One of the main issues with the film is that they try to address too much in terms of Garland’s character. The main arc of the movie involves her attempting to make a stable enough living in order to regain custody of her children, which is extremely compelling. However, there are also subplots involving her marriage to her fifth (and final) husband, Mickey Deans, and her struggles with addiction. Yet due to the film’s apparent need to be mainstream-friendly, these themes are not addressed deeply enough to matter.
The best scenes in the movie are the opening and closing sequences (the latter of which is likely the scene that will get Zellweger her third Oscar nomination). These two scenes, one showing the cruelty Garland faced as a child from producer Louis B. Mayer and the other highlighting the way in which her music affected people on a personal level, have the magic one would expect from a film telling the story of the movie star. Audiences will be left wishing that the whole movie was as amazing as those two moments.
Zellweger’s performance is undeniably impressive, and she does have two or three moments in which she is able to truly shine, but it frequently feels like a desperate plea for awards attention. As an impersonation of Garland, Zellweger’s turn is phenomenal, recreating the mannerisms of the late actress to an impeccable level of detail. That said, in only a handful of sequences does Zellweger feel like she is in charge of the movie, the rest feeling like the script is driving the boat.
On a technical level, the film is relatively solid, although the style too feels like little more than awards bait. The cinematography and editing are both very safe. Everything about the movie looks nice and does a good job of recreating the late-1960’s setting of the film, but there simply aren’t enough risks taken to make the movie stand out.
While it is a loving tribute to a lost talent, Judy is too bland and safe to be particularly entertaining. There are some very good moments, and Renée Zellweger gives one of her better performances in recent memory, but this is mostly a dud.
Judy opens in theaters on September 27.