Jessie Buckley

Judy

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.

Wild Rose

First Hit: A more realistic version of a star being born.

I’m old enough to remember seeing two of the four most noted theatrical versions of “A Star is Born” in movie theaters: The recent 2018 version with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (given name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), and the 1976 version, with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I have also seen a television replay of the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. In these films, it was always the feeling at the beginning of these films that a star would be born, and their name would appear in lights - everywhere.

In Wild Rose, the feeling is different. In so many turns, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) acts out in un-mindful ways. She just doesn’t seem to get it that her impulsive, loud, party-like, good time girl behavior and impressive singing voice isn’t enough to make her a country singing star, especially being from and living in Glasgow, Scotland. We get why she says, “I should have been born in America.” She appears to have little understanding of what it takes to become this idealized dream she has for herself.

The film opens with her packing up her map of Nashville and personal belongings because she is getting out of prison after being incarcerated for twelve months. Part of the restriction for her release is that she’ll have to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. We know this is going to become an issue in the film.

We see her first go to her boyfriend’s house. After a physically impassioned visit, she heads to her mother’s home where she is coldly greeted by her mother, Marion (Julie Walters). We also learn that her mother has been taking care of Rose’s two children, Wynonna, and Lyle (Daisy Littlefield and Adam Mitchell, respectively). Marion has been taking care of the children during the time Rose-Lynn was incarcerated, and we get the sense, many other times as well.

Upon seeing their mother, Wynonna is distant towards Rose and Lyle is expressively happy to see his mom.

It wasn’t lost on me that Rose’s love for country music was also expressed in the names of her children as they are named after country music legends Wynonna Judd and Lyle Lovett.

Having to begin to take responsibility for her children, she finds a cleaning job at the home of a wealthy woman named Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who has two children herself. Susannah’s children hear Rose sing while she’s working and tell their mom. Her mom convinces Rose to make an electronic recording on their computer which eventually makes it to the BBC country music radio host Bob Harris.

Bob invites her to London to meet with him. She is excited about this opportunity but ends up getting drunk while partying with a group of blokes on the train and then discovers that her purse, phone, money, and ID have been pinched. Rose tries to blame the train personnel, the woman sitting across from where she left her bag and her lot in life. She doesn’t get that she’s her own problem. One of the themes of this film.

Leaving the train station, she runs through London and ends up being late for her meeting with Bob Harris, but Bob meets with her anyway. He asks her if she plays an instrument or writes a song to which Rose says “no.” He says she’s got to have something to say to be a singer. This is the first clue that she may not make it as her dreams had hoped she would.

Slowly, Rose starts taking responsibility for her children and her life. She makes a home for her kids and begins taking an interest in their lives. The children feel this change of heart and start warming up to their mom.

The film continues with wonderfully staged scenes where Rose gets the opportunity to grow and learn about being a parent and her wish to be a country star. There’s the undying support from Susannah, then the talk with Susannah’s husband in the car, multiple discussions with her mother, including one where her mother takes a chance on her daughter. There’s are beautiful scenes in Nashville, where she really sees that being a country singer is a lot more than “three chords and the truth” (references a tattoo and belief on Rose’s arm).

The ending scene is filled with deep emotion and the realization of what it means to be both a mother and an outstanding country singer.

Buckley is sublime as Rose-Lynn. She encapsulates in both action and heart this young woman who has a dream but has to learn how to grow into her life. When Rose looks through her children’s knapsacks, my heart was warmed. When she started partying on the train to London, I felt myself saying, oh no, this isn’t going to turn out well. Walters was earnestly compelling as Rose’s mother, who also had to learn the difference between being responsible and a child’s hope. Littlefield and Mitchell were great as the children. I thought Littlefield’s slow growth towards trusting that her mom would be there for her was insanely perfect. Okonedo was terrific in her role as Rose’s boss and inspired supporter. Nicole Taylor wrote an outstanding script that told a compelling story of growth, responsibility, and understanding. Tom Harper made all the characters come alive and have a purpose in this story.

Overall: This film was indeed about a human star being born.