First Hit: This film opened the door to possibly seeing a more in-depth and human Judy through her last year of life.
I loved and was deeply touched by this story.
After seeing this film, and then reading some of the reviews, I found that the reviews saying that they should have dubbed Judy’s voice on the songs that Renee Zellweger sang as Judy, missed the point of the story that was presented.
This story is about Judy’s final year of life, her voice worn out from surgery, drinking, smoking, and her soul ripped out by enablers and poor decisions. Have a dubbed voice of a Judy in her prime would have been both dishonest and not real.
Judy died at age 47, six months after she was removed from the set of London concerts which are the focal point of this story. Judy was strung out on pills and booze most all of her adult life. It felt as though Judy was simply a commodity that people used to make money, and in this way, Zellweger nailed what it must felt like.
As this movie pointedly shows in scenes sprinkled throughout, as a child, Judy was fed drugs by the head of motion picture companies to keep her alert and awake when they wanted her to work, to keep her thin, and then to have her sleep when they didn’t need her. The story shows that people had only one focus, use her voice, to make others, including her parents, husbands, and movie studios money.
With little real support from husbands (she married five times) or someone who had her best interests at heart, Judy ended up broke, strung out, and desperate to find inner peace.
This story begins with Judy and her young children Lorena and Joey Luft being shuttled on staged and in front of a live audience to do a quick song with a silly dance. They were handed an envelope with $150. Heading back to the hotel, where they’ve been saying, they find out that because Judy was in arrears to the hotel, their room was repurposed.
Getting into a taxi, Judy, with kids in tow, ends up at Sidney Luft’s (Rufus Sewell) home. The scene that shortly follows sets up their antagonistic relationship. Leaving the kids with Sid, and nowhere to go, she heads to a party where her older daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux) is located.
Meeting Mickey Deens (Finn Wittrock) at this party, Judy decides to stay at the party instead of leaving with Liza because Mickey is charming and flirtatious with Judy. It’s here we see out easily she’s influenced and charmed.
We move forward a few weeks and, in need of money to buy a home, pay her debts, and become a full-time mother, Judy signs a 5-week agreement to do concerts in London. With Roslyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) assigned to keep Judy in line and show up sober to the sold-out engagements, Judy does try her best, but her inner demons continue to gnaw at her, and soon she shows up on stage drunk and ends up walking out.
However, she does get a swan song helped by her true fans - this was a lovely scene.
Zellweger was absolutely fantastic as Judy. The, I don’t know what to do, and I’m a fish out of water, look Zellweger brought to the role absolutely fit with the story as told. Over the years, I’ve listened recordings of Judy and could easily imagine her voice losing its sublime tone after surgery, drugs, alcohol, and lots of cigarettes. That some think that Judy’s premiere voice should have been used in the singing scenes, would have been a false story. Buckley was excellent as Judy’s minder while in England. Slowly seeing the depth of Judy’s suffering was beautifully portrayed when she presented Judy with a birthday cake she could eat. Deans was good as Judy’s last savior husband. Royce Pierreson as Judy’s bandleader in London, was beautiful. I felt as though he knew the path Judy had taken and would do anything to make it work for her on stage. Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira play two London gay men who are full-fledged fans of Judy’s and the scenes with them and Judy in their apartment were incredibly sweet and heartfelt. Sewell as Sidney Luft was excellent but unexplored. Lastly, Darci Shaw as a young Judy was excellent. The scene of sitting with Mickey Rooney in a restaurant with Judy’s minder not letting Judy eat anything was incredibly telling of how her life was controlled. Tom Edge wrote an interesting script about the final months about Judy’s life. Rupert Goold did a fantastic job of creating pointed scenes and excellently staged sets. But ultimately his getting Zellweger to take on and embody Judy Garland was perfect.
Overall: I was deeply touched by this story.