Review of “Judy” – the new “biopic” about Judy Garland

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Judy squints!
Renee Zellweger tries for Oscar gold portraying Judy Garland in a boring “biopic.”



Let me get one thing clear.  The “critics” and others who have declared that “Renee Zellweger becomes Judy Garland” in the new, and boring, “biopic” Judy have obviously never seen the real Judy Garland perform in anything – at all.  There’s no other explanation.  Zellweger doesn’t “become” Judy Garland – at all.  To say so is a misleading lie.  Zellweger plays a drug-addicted singer at the end of her life, but that singer sure isn’t Judy Garland no matter how hard Zellweger tries (and try she does!).  Don’t get me wrong, Zellweger does have some good scenes, just not as Judy Garland.

Judy begins immediately with a flashback to Judy Garland as a teenager on the set of The Wizard of Oz.  MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer is giving her “advice” while walking on a poorly rendered representation of the Oz sets.  Who knew the Kansas farm set, the Scarecrow’s cornfield, and the poppy field were all one set?  Oh right, they weren’t.  I overheard someone behind me whisper to a friend, “they couldn’t use CGI?”  I don’t know if that person was referencing the weird inaccuracy of the setting or if they were commenting on the low budget, TV-movie-of-the-70s, look of the set.  Inexplicably, “Miss Gulch” rides by on her bicycle, on the Yellow Brick Road, while Garland and Mayer are walking and talking.  That’s not a great start.

“Mr. Mayer” (as many called him back in the heyday of MGM) proceeds to tell young Garland, blandly played by Darci Shaw, how ordinary she is and that the only thing that sets her apart is her voice.  She just wants some time to enjoy normal teenager things but that’s not possible for MGM’s budding new star.  This scene is meant to let the audience know that Garland never had a life of her own and was only loved for her voice, which is pounded home throughout the rest of the film.

Renee Zellweger appears as Judy Garland, performing with her two youngest children, Lorna, and Joey Luft.  At a very late post-performance hour Garland (and kids) attempts to check in to her favorite New York City hotel but is turned down due to unpaid bills.  She gets angry, fast, and unable to pay, marches out with kids in tow.  In the cab, which she apparently does have the money for (a joke about paying more for the cab than what the hotel cost is made later), she immediately downs some pills, to which Lorna (played by Isabella Ramsay) asks her not to fall asleep.  “These are the other ones” is Garland’s reply, indicating that she’s taking uppers rather than downers.  Garland takes the kids to ex-husband Sid Luft’s home in Brentwood.  This is conflated, as Luft did not live in New York and Brentwood is an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles.  But, a little dramatic license is to be expected in any “biopic” and the sequence effectively sets up Garland’s homeless dilemma, her very real love for her children, and her relationship with Sid Luft – who is effectively played by Rufus Sewell.  He reappears later in the storyline and is one of the better portrayals.

Note:  I use the word “biopic” in quotes because Judy isn’t really a “biopic” but more a portrayal of a drug-addicted performer during one short time period at the end of her life.

Garland then goes to a party at which her first child, the adult (and oddly overweight) Liza Minnelli (played by Gemma-Leah Devereux), is also a guest.  It’s at this party, we’re shown, where Garland meets the man who would become her fifth (and last) husband/manager, Mickey Deans (played by Finn Wittrock sporting an odd Bronx-ish accent).  He hitches his star to her wagon and she hitches her need for stability to him.  From there Garland gets an offer to appear at The Talk of the Town in faraway London.  The dilemma is that Garland can’t take her two youngest children with her but with no other choice she’s forced to leave them behind with Luft.  She’s now shown as utterly alone.

Garland goes to London and meets up with her Talk of the Town pianist and personal assistant hired by the venue’s management, the real-life Rosalyn Wilder played by Jessie Buckley.  I wasn’t there, but from what I’m told by people who were there when the events portrayed took place, Wilder’s role is greatly exaggerated in this film.  She also comes off as very unfeeling and cold.  She’s kind of a bitch.  I took this as the filmmakers’ attempt to correlate her character to a similar female harridan who’s shown in the MGM flashbacks bossing the young Garland around in a similar unfeeling and quite mean manner.  I was never sure if this unnamed flashback character was supposed to be Garland’s mother or just some mean studio-assigned assistant whose sole purpose in life is to ensure the young Garland doesn’t eat, doesn’t play around, takes her pills to wake up and then takes her pills to get to sleep.  The pills have a solid supporting role in this film.  Wilder inexplicably becomes nice at the end of the film.  I guess that by that point she’s no longer responsible for getting Garland on stage every night so she’s a happy camper.

Garland is so nervous about her opening at The Talk of the Town and upset about being alone without her kids, she gets wasted and can’t go on.  It takes Wilder and a makeup girl to get her in decent shape (coffee, of course) to literally push her out on the stage and perform.  I didn’t look at my watch so as not to distract the people in the theater next to me but by this point, the film had run on for a good half an hour, maybe a little more.  This was meant to build excitement and anticipation of Zellweger doing her best Judy Garland impersonation.  It didn’t succeed.  In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it’s quite boring.  That’s not a word that’s usually used for anything in relation to the real Judy Garland.

From there, the film becomes a series of sequences that show Garland alternating from loneliness to desperation to showing up at The Talk of the Town too messed up to perform (but she’s allowed to go on stage anyway) and not being too messed up to perform.  Inbetween those sequences we get a few more MGM flashbacks (apparently everything happened to Garland around the time she turned 16).  There are hints of unrequited love for Mickey Rooney that apparently are meant to show how this fictional Garland was unlucky with men all her life.  An appearance on a British talk show goes bad (the look and costume she’s wearing are copied from her real-life 1968 appearance on the Mike Douglas Show in the U.S.) due to her cranky unpredictability, which is another theme of the film.

Mickey Deans surprises Garland by showing up in London which brings her temporary stability.  She quickly marries him.  After failing to get a chain of Judy Garland movie theaters off the ground, he and Garland argue and he disappears.  Sid Luft reappears, visiting London to get Garland to give up full custody of their two children.  This enrages Garland so she gets wasted again and has another bad night at The Talk of the Town.  In the end, her engagement at the venue is completed and she is alone with nowhere to go.  She convinces Wilder to let her watch Lonnie Donegan (played by John Dagleish) perform at The Talk of the Town from backstage.  Naturally, she convinces Donegan to let her go out on stage where she proceeds to sing “Come Rain or Come Shine” and finally, “Over the Rainbow.”  Fade to black.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person bored.  In the showing I was at, several people left long before the end of the film.  That surprised me.  On the way out I overheard one person tell his friend that he liked Zellweger but not the film.  Another person told their friend that the film “wasn’t very good.”  And that’s one of the biggest issues with the film.  It’s just not very good and again, and regardless of whatever one thinks of Zellweger’s impersonation, it’s boring.

It takes a great star to play a great star, as they say.  At this, Judy fails.  One’s enjoyment of the film depends on one’s knowledge of (and exposure to) the real Judy Garland’s life and, more importantly, her voice.  I imagine that most Judy Garland fans will not enjoy the film while those who know nothing about Judy Garland will.  That’s a shame.  They won’t hear the real Judy Garland’s voice coming at them from the theater’s speakers (which is a glorious experience) so they are robbed of those “little jabs of pleasure” that one gets when hearing the real thing.  Instead, they get a non-singer trying but ultimately failing to emulate those jabs of pleasure.  There are no jabs of pleasure from Renee Zellweger.  

When it was announced that a film of Peter Quilter’s play “End of the Rainbow” was in the works I was surprised.  The play, in spite of getting a Tony nomination for Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland, was maligned for it’s very fictional and sensationalist take on a short few months in Judy Garland’s life (having Judy crawl across a floor barking like a dog begging for pills didn’t help).  It’s an odd choice for the basis of a big-screen “biopic” about one of the biggest legends (and biggest talents) of the entertainment world in the 20th century.  Thankfully, and this is one of Judy’s few plusses, the play’s ridiculous sensationalism is gone and it’s opened up to include some more context and background.

It was then announced the Renee Zellweger would play Judy Garland and would do her own singing.  I was more than surprised.  Zellweger sings passably in Chicago thanks to some help from modern technology but she has nowhere near the talent, whether in her voice or in her limited acting abilities, of a star of the stature of Judy Garland.  The alleged reasons for having Zellweger sing for herself were that there were no good sounding recordings from the period portrayed (late 1968 and early 1969), but Garland fans know that’s not true (example, the great “Swan Songs” 3-CD set).  If we have the technology to make Zellweger sound decent in Chicago, then we have the technology to clean up older recordings.  I believe the decision was actually due to copyrights and the push to get Zellweger an Oscar nomination.  Regardless, Zellweger is not a musical talent and not up to the task.  Having a great singer like Judy Garland portrayed by a non-musical actress is a bad choice.  Would a film about Barbra Streisand not use her voice?  The filmmakers also stressed that Zellweger wasn’t trying to sound like Judy Garland but rather, she was going for an attempt at capturing the essence of Judy Garland at this time in her life when her voice was froggy more often than not.  In other words, “she doesn’t have to sound like Judy because Judy didn’t sound like Judy at that time.”  Wrong again.  And lazy.  The fact that Judy fails miserably in this respect makes it all the more regrettable.  Even at this late stage of her life Judy Garland was able to muster that special magic and give audiences that unique Garland sound in spite of a sometimes froggy and raspy voice.

Full transparency.  I have never been a Zellweger fan, long before this project ever came along.  As I’ve noted, I thought she was just OK in Chicago.  I find her acting “talent” to be average at best.  To me, she’s of the Meg Ryan or Cameron Diaz ilk.  She’s cute, she’s pleasant, and she enjoys a career that is based on luck rather than real talent.  Also, that squeaky whine in her voice hits my nerves in the wrong way.  Judy Garland did not have a squeaky weak and whiny voice, nor was she squinty in the eyes.  So Zellweger had a big hurdle to jump as far as I’m concerned (not that she cares about me, of course!).  A truly successful portrayal of Judy Garland on screen takes a talent of the caliber of Meryl Streep.

It’s in the musical numbers that the film falters the most.  Zellweger’s average vocals might make those who know nothing of Judy Garland wonder what the big deal was about her.  Why are these people making such a fuss over this woman who’s got such an average voice?  In the context of the film, this “Judy Garland” comes off as less the voice of the century at the end of her life and more a drug-addicted mess who, at times, has flashes of humanity and humor.  The on-stage scenes that are supposed to show Garland’s electric effect on audiences (and mutual love) don’t work.  They are simply not convincing no matter how hard Zellweger tries and she does try very hard at times.

Zellweger’s attempts at belting sound like moaning.  She just can’t do it.  She can half yell/half moan.  It’s particularly painful in an ear slaying rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine” that comes toward the end of the film.  Zellweger’s lack of real musical training is so obvious.  At times her lip-syncing is off.  She also lacks the understanding of how to hold a microphone to make it look like she’s singing into it rather than it just being a “Judy prop.”  I’m surprised the filmmakers didn’t give her some better lessons at that.  Again, lazy.  Other people have raved about this “belting” but considering what passes for musical talent these days, I’m not surprised.

Zellweger tries, sort of, to emulate Garland’s unique style by copying some of Garland’s hand and arm gestures.  Sometimes she doesn’t.  It’s very inconsistent.  Sadly, much like the vocals, Garland’s singular and electric stage presence are nowhere to be found in spite of the stilted gestures and poses on stage.  If the filmmakers and Zellweger had been able to create a good facsimile of the Garland stage presence that would have helped and might (just might) have overcome some of those vocal deficiencies.  But no, we get someone who’s really no better than your average local cabaret performer.  This is just another reminder of why the real Judy Garland was and still is so beloved.  It’s also a reminder that the person playing Judy Garland does not have a musical background.  I know I addressed that already but I can’t stress that enough.  If anyone had a completely natural, God-given genius musical talent it was Judy Garland.  Zellweger can’t even lipsync to her own recordings convincingly.

Her first song in the film, “By Myself,” is meant to bowl us over.  But on the big screen, Zellweger’s odd head jerking movements are distracting.  Judy Garland had a nervous energy but it was natural and didn’t look as though she were on the verge of a stroke.  When we get to “Over the Rainbow” we know that thankfully it’s the finale.  But Garland gets toward the end of the song and can’t finish it.  One of the gay men that Garland befriended earlier in the film stands up and starts to sing it.  His partner then stands and joins in.  One by one the rest of the audience begins to sing.  It’s meant to be moving but no, it’s just corny and manipulative.  There’s a cut to a close up of Zellweger with a single tear streaming down her face.  Judy Garland is where she belongs, in the adoration of her audience.  The film ends with an audible boom (aka “mic drop”) for dramatic effect.

I went into the film not expecting a Judy Garland sound-alike.  We’ve been told enough over the last several months that Zellweger wasn’t trying to sound like Garland or be like Garland.  But yet she was obviously trying.  Perhaps the filmmakers realized how dismally she emulated Garland so the official take was that she wasn’t “really” trying to be Garland.  At any rate, I had low expectations.  It’s a shame that she was actually worse than I anticipated.  I had hoped she would be better than my expectations and I would be happily surprised.  In spite of it all, I really did want to like the film and to like her in spite of my biases.

Zellweger was much better in the dramatic scenes.  She still wasn’t convincing as Judy Garland but at times she showed some pathos.  She’s quite good at playing sad and lonely.  She pursed her lips too much in the closeups to be convincing as Garland.  She had a discernable mustache-type line above her lips.  This was probably an attempt by the makeup folks to hide Zellweger’s very full new lips.  Speaking of makeup, sometimes her eyes were light brown and other times her eyes were the very dark almost black like the real Garland.  That was odd.

The humor fares better.  Some good lines show Garland’s famous sense of humor and her ability to joke in the face of hardship.  Zellweger is out of character when delivering the lines (the delivery is more Roxie Hart than Judy Garland) but they’re still funny.

There are two scenes during which I think Zellweger is excellent, not really as Judy Garland but just excellent in general.  After fighting with Sid Luft, Garland is upset and again gets wasted.  She still goes on and her march through the backstage hallway to the stage is filled with emotion.  Later she’s in a phone booth talking long-distance to daughter Lorna.  It’s very effective.  Judy’s very real love for her children is expertly portrayed and is one of the better aspects of the film.

Another highlight is the sequence during which Garland spends time with a local gay couple.  She’s told backstage that no one is waiting after the show to meet her.  Disappointed, she leaves alone.  Outside she meets a gay couple.  They ask for her autograph and in chatting, she asks them out to a late dinner.  The ensuing sequence is charming and shows them bonding with Garland.  There’s also a short bit of dialog that addresses the oppression faced by LGBTQ+ people at that time.  Zellweger is best in scenes like this when she’s not trying to “be” Judy Garland.

The costumes are well rendered.  They aren’t exact copies of some of the more famous outfits Garland wore but they’re definitely of the period and look like outfits she would have worn.  The costumes for the other characters and extras are equally good.  The costume designer did a great job.  Not so with the makeup but it wasn’t horrible, just inconsistent.  Even Lorna’s hair seemed to change color.  She was never a platinum blonde but in Judy, she’s first shown with brown then really REALLY dark brown hair.

In the end, Judy is, regardless of whether one thinks Zellweger’s performance is good or bad, a boring and poorly executed film.  It’s not a good representation of Judy Garland in the period portrayed or any other period in her life and career.

There is talk of an Oscar nomination for Zellweger.  She will most likely get one.  The real Judy Garland lost the Best Actress Oscar allegedly by just a few votes for her performance in A Star Is Born.  It was (and still is) considered the greatest injustice of all the Best Actress losses.  It would be the ultimate Oscar slap in the face to the Garland legacy if someone with a fraction of her talent won that award for a pedestrian portrayal of her.

Judy is the first big-screen biopic about Judy Garland.  Considering how much she sacrificed and gave to her audiences, her legend and legacy deserve more.  So much more.

26 comments

  1. Wow, Scott, that is a very harsh review. And I’ve wondered for over a year what your thoughts were on this film. I’m seeing the film tomorrow night with a dear friend who only knows Judy as “Dorothy” and that she died young. That’s it. My other friend saw it last night with his girlfriend and raved about Zellwegger…that they were both in tears.

    I have extreme mixed feelings about this film. I’m for any exposure for Garland, on the whole, but I would prefer lip-synching as well, so newbies could GET why this woman is so revered. My respect for Zellwegger is greater than yours, and I feel that NOBODY could recreate Judy (no, not even Streep). I also feel Michelle Williams was ABSURDLY cast as Marilyn Monroe, and I refused to see that movie (I generally admire Williams, and I’m not a particular fan of Monroe…but pul-ease…).

    Two huge points you didn’t address: Even my straight male friend said, “wasn’t Lorna a TEENAGER by 1968??” He’s right – they make Lorna and Joe look like 10 and 7 year-olds respectively. How insulting! And what was the point? Secondly, Mickey Deans is painted as sort of saintlike…yes, an opportunist, but like Sid, he also “cared about her.” What NONSENSE!!! This
    toad signed a book deal right after Garland’s death, and was rumored to haunt garage sales, so he could purchase old ’60’s clothing, then sell it from the trunk of his car, claiming it was JUDY’S. Just to keep making a buck.

    What bugs me most, is interviewers asking Zellwegger who is the “most talented performer today?” She, and other cast members claim Beyonce!! Sorry, only 77 year-old Streisand gets a remote comparison. Beyonce doesn’t even belong
    in the same sentence as these two!!

    Thanks in advance for your highly thoughtful review.

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  2. The movie structure was definitely a mess with the overplayed flashbacks.

    I disagree that Zellweger doesn’t pull off a good facsimile of Judy at the end of her career (when, let’s be historically honest: Judy Garland was an absolute mess) in both prosthetics, wardrobe and mannerisms. Her voice isn’t quite as low, gravelly (from lifelong smoking) and nasally. Zellweger’s singing is excellent, but again, not really Judy Garland (did anybody ever think this would be possible?). Then again if you compare the real Judy Garland’s last performance of “Over The Rainbow” to Zellweger’s side by side, you’ll get a pretty good sense of what Zellweger was striving toward and trying to emulate. It is probably, in all reality, the best portrayal we’ll see from an actress any time soon. I sure appreciated that attempt over lip syncing to Judy’s final performance. Could the great Meryl Streep have done better? No way. She might have been able to capture facial ticks and the talking voice emulation better, but Meryl Streep could not have sung for real any better. It almost sounds from your review that you would rather have had Zellweger lip sync? Or did I misunderstand?

    Did the singing ruin the movie or did movie ruin the movie or did Zellweger’s portrayal of Judy Garland ruin the movie? Sorry, I cannot tell from your review.

    You wrote, “In spite of it all, I really did want to like the film and to like her in spite of my biases.” It seems from reading that your biases ruined the film more than anything. Judy Garland is dead, sadly. We’ll never get anybody on this planet to sing exactly like her again in her prime. At the end of her career she was very much not in her prime. Even the real Rosalyn Wilde who was by her side acknowledged that (and I didn’t think she was portrayed as a “bitch” in the film at all) by saying that it was a rough time for Judy at the end. There is a blog post that the real Wilde comments in depth about what it was really like working with Judy Garland at this period in time. Garland was a mess. Most of her performances were late and some didn’t go off at all, which is fairly accurately portrayed in the movie.

    Honestly, to cover Judy’s life at the end was a wise decision. I wish the way they told the story — too disjointed in the night after night performances — would have been more interesting than it was (would agree there were stretches in this movie that were boring), but to say Zellweger’s performance wasn’t as good as many people saying it was is perplexing. I’m not sure who could have done better in Hollywood today (definitely not Meryl Streep who is just too old and frumpy any more, despite how amazing and much better an actress she is than Zellweger).

    Thank you for the in depth analysis and review.

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  3. Thanks, Gary!

    I hadn’t seen the interviews in which Ms. Z and other cast members noted Beyonce as the most talented performer of today. That’s interesting. It’s also in keeping with my comment about the low bar that’s set for today’s “talent.” Nothing against Beyonce who I think, out of all the singers today, is super-talented and wonderful to watch.

    The film does play loose with the facts (such as what you mentioned about Lorna’s real age) but that actually didn’t bother me too much because the whole thing was a factual and narrative mess in that respect.

    As always, thanks for the support of The Judy Room! 🙂

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  4. Thanks for writing!

    Fair points, and thank you for sharing. To answer your question, it was both the singing and the movie itself that ruined the movie for me. I’m sorry that wasn’t clear.

    I also didn’t say that I thought Streep would have been better but that it takes someone of the caliber of Ms. Streep to play someone of the caliber of Garland.

    I’ll defend myself a bit here and say that I really did want to like the film and had hoped Ms. Z would have pleasantly surprised me. She didn’t. As I mentioned, she was worse than I had thought (based on the trailers and other clips I had seen before watching the complete film). I had hoped the film would be fantastic and in spite of herself, Ms. Z would be amazing.

    I will disagree on Garland’s voice during that time period. There are (and they are readily available on CD) performances from this time period, a few from the Talk of the Town, in which Garland does sound quite wonderful. (http://thejudyroom.com/misc/swansongs.html). So I stand by my comments on that.

    I think this will be polarizing for Garland fans. And that’s ok. I certainly don’t judge people for having a different opinion on any film, let alone this one.

    Thank you for writing. I appreciate it whenever readers take the time to share their thoughts, it means a lot to me, even differences of opinions! 🙂

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  5. Not trying to be spammy, but see this post: https://moviereviewsbyus.com/2019/09/24/famous-people-that-died-at-47-like-judy-garland/

    The link you gave is to something that others reading cannot listen to and evaluate on their own. Something packaged, remastered and doctored is not the same of a completely raw, unedited product.

    In that post we have the original 1939 Wizard of Oz “Over The Rainbow”, Zellweger’s version in the 2019 film, then the last version Judy Garland ever sang live (hopefully unedited, but who knows).

    There is no serious comparison between Judy Garland’s voice in 1939 to Judy Garland’s voice 30 years later. That isn’t to say Garland is bad (heck, she is Judy Garland!), but her vibrato is strained, her voice is obviously weaker comparatively. Yes, she is still many times better than Renee Z’s singing voice which is more timid, dramatically less vibrato and not even 10% of the power of Garland’s. You can feel the force, even when the late, great Garland sang this for the last time that she was in a class all by herself.

    And I didn’t say that Judy never had any good nights during the Talk of The Town shows. That is well documented that she did have some nights that she did “reasonably well” (that is quote from someone actually there watching night after night, not mine).

    Lastly, I’m a little skeptical of any CD recording since CDs didn’t even exist in 1969 and they are digital. During the remastering process, CDS are altered in significant ways. They are not superior phonetically to unedited, raw analog recordings of the era that would have clearly shown all the faults (music, vocals, etc). Not sure the example I provided btw in the link is doctored either, it might be, but you can still hear the defects in Garland’s voice, the fact that she was vocally strained and tired trying to pull off her signature song.

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  6. The CD set is available on eBay. It’s easy to purchase with a simple Google search. The link is tot he Discography’s page for details about the set so people can see just what it includes and make their decision about buying it. The link wasn’t meant to be anything else. I think you’d be surprised at how great they sound. Audio restoration has advanced so much in the last 10 years it’s a wonder what they can do these days without damaging the integrity of the original recordings. There’s a lot of great stuff in that set!

    Also, I don’t think anyone is comparing the 1939 version of OTR to her later versions. That would be silly. Her final performances of OTR were not at the Talk of the Town, it was months later in New York just a week or so before she passed.

    But we’re splitting hairs here. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

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  7. John Meyer’s review of the film, JUDY:

    Poor Tom Edge. He’s the screenwriter who penned the script for JUDY, the movie. They tossed him some twenty-odd events in Judy’s life and asked him to make a story. He didn’t quite succeed. It’s as if we have these scattered, ill-fitting jigsaw-puzzle pieces that never cohere into a real narrative. We get

    1) Judy’s man-handling at the hands of M-G-M, whose tyrannical boss Louis B. Mayer not only starves her but cops a cheap feel.

    2) Her fight to keep her children from husband Sid Luft, which includes a perverse scene where Judy bundles the pre-teen Lorna and Joey into a stifling, claustrophobic closet. With the right set-up, this could have been charming, but comes off here as merely perverse.

    3) Her romance with promoter Mickey Deans, who promises her a chain of theaters but is unable to deliver, thus quashing the relationship.

    4) Lastly, the drama surrounding her appearances at The Talk of the Town nightclub, where she was pelted one night with cigarette packs by an angry audience. It is here that the gifted Renee Zellweger makes her best impression as Judy, singing the standards By Myself, The Trolley Song and Come Rain or Come Shine…in her own voice. Somehow, she is able to create perhaps a tenth of the magic the actual Judy evoked when she sang, but even this small percentage is thrilling.

    Her characterization is good, she captures Judy’s way with a throwaway line, and she invests the arguments with Sid and Mickey with conviction. I believed her.

    I confess I went into the theater with a chip on my shoulder, having actually been there, witnessed these things and detailed them in my book, Heartbreaker. In fact, Tracie Bennett –who portrayed Judy in the stage version- told me they relied on my book for much of the background.

    But you know what? I was entertained. And, as the film progressed, I began rooting for it. It’s wonderful to bring a fresh consciousness of Judy to those who know her only for The Wizard of Oz. And let’s not forget: a rising tide lifts all boats.

    We have a film version of Heartbreaker in the works. This picture, JUDY, can only help.

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  8. Scott,

    Your review is spot on!

    Everything you say is true, from the squinting ( Judy had the MOST beautiful and expressive Big eyes) to the failure to get a proper audio person to fix up sone recordings from late ‘68 through ‘69.

    From her hilarious sense of humor and great Wit ( which is why people like Noel Coward, Dietrich, Sinatra ( well he dropped away) and Jack Paar enjoyed her company so much.

    Judy not knowing how to use a mic properly is ridiculous too.

    You also hit the nail on the head with those who most enjoyed it had no clue who the Real Judy was ir what One Note if hers could do to people ( whether in concert or LP; I say LP because that’s what I listened to for most of my youth as a fan.

    I was lucky enough to have seen her at least a dozen times from Forest Hills to her last concert in South Philly at the JFK stadium where she was

    Young “fanatical” fans, I think went a “little” overboard in their Anger over this film. Easy kids; just a mediocre film.
    There is A LOT of material out there to enjoy with the real Judy. 😊

    Again, well done and thanks for your input, insight, and knowledge in your review.

    Fondly,
    Joni Rapp

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  9. I won’t go see this. I saw the play on Broadway and it was too depressing. Judy is my girl and I’d rather watch her on u tube

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  10. Thank you for sharing this! For those who don’t know, Meyer dated Judy in the time period just before the events of this film take place. His book, “Heartbreaker” (available on Amazon, etc.) chronicles his time with her. It’s fascinating!

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  11. I am leaving my opinion before I read the others and what their take was. Your review was (in my opinion) overly hard. You gave them absolutely no creative license in making this very touching, yes sad, film. I felt you looked at it with a magnifying glass to examine every detail you could find “wrong” That is all you did in this review. Of course, like any long time Garland fan, we all know every time they became creative to push the story along. No gay men sang with/for/to her at the Talk of the Town but yes, she did go to some’s apartments as described in Heartbreaker book. Renee Zellweger sang in real time so I am not sure what your claim about lip syncing is off is coming from, and in fact thats really where you lost me, and I realized you were rabid about the film. There are no usable recordings of her time at Talk of the Town, only the Deans recordings from the 2nd tier from cheap reel to reel tapes. No existing system could take those and extract the vocals and make it feature film quality. Sorry you did not enjoy the film. I, on the other hand went into it open minded and I cried from the telephone booth call to Lorna all the way to the end of the film. I was that moved. They had successfully presented the fact that this Icon, this gifted, beloved performer was so used, the undue pressure that was put upon her, the people who squandered her money, in her desperation to keep going, to be with her family, the sheer sadness that the great Judy Garland, that no one could save her from herself. That she died at 47 and yet half a century after her passing a film showing her struggles her wit, her demons, its all laid out for us. No things did not happen exactly as they showed in the film but the raw emotion was there. That transcends small liberties taken. To me, the film was absolutely wonderful. They did not hold her up to riddicule, nor make any fun of her plight. The audience I was in was not bored, no one walked out and many clapped at the end. Thats my take.

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  12. Hi Scott, I saw the film Saturday night with, as I wrote, a friend who only knows Judy as “Dorothy.” I confessed to enjoying the film, despite its flaws. Of course Judy didn’t sing “Come Rain or Come Shine” at that point, and, yes, the little girl (LITTLE girl) is no teenage Lorna. But I’m okay with artistic license. Here’s what I did like:

    The overwhelming sense of LONELINESS that Garland (and, frankly, many troubled stars) experienced is palpable from beginning to end. Her sense of hopelessness was really tough to watch because it was TRUE. I also was blown away by Zellweger’s performance and I believed she was Judy – but only when she was talking. She convinces very well, and even has the posture, bewildered glances, and subtle childlike expressions trapped inside a middle-aged woman, who is slowly dying before our eyes.

    I don’t agree with Liza’s urging fans not to see the film, when there are very good reviews mixed in (including the L.A. Times). She should know by age 73, that her mother is a legend and public figure. I personally couldn’t care less that she’s “never met” Renee. I also enjoyed Darsi Shaw, and thought it might’ve been effective to have HER lip-synch 16 year-old Judy’s “Zing!.” But even teenage Garland would’ve upstaged the much less vocally gifted Zellweger, and the filmmaker’s weren’t about to have that!

    Again, what disappointed me was trying to describe to my friend WHY this woman was so great vocally. Still, you could hear a pin drop during the riveting musical sequences, due to Zellweger’s fierce performances (my theater was sold out).

    There were people of all ages, races, and orientations in the theater, which I found intriguing. And I overheard one young woman say, “I came because I wanted to see if she could pull it off, and she did.” I have no way of knowing whether that woman really knows Garland’s greatness, or is just a curious Bridgett Jones fan.

    That said, I still respect those who did not like the film. One either buys Renee in this, or they don’t. And, yes, the script is structured poorly. So glad they don’t show Deans finding her dead. I dreaded that scene. Thank God for the taste of the filmmaker’s here.

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  13. Thanks, Gary!

    Regardless of what one thinks of Ms. Z’s performance, as I noted, I found the film to be overall boring – long before she opened her mouth to sing.

    I also don’t mind artistic license in films like this but even so, they were pretty fast and loose – but that’s just my take.

    I didn’t care for it and didn’t care for Ms. Z’s aside from a few scenes that I thought she did well. In spite of what some might think, I really did go into it hoping that she would bowl me over. She didn’t. But she gave it her all and she’ll get an Oscar nomination out of it, which is what she wants. I stand by my opinion because it is, after all, just my opinion.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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  14. Thanks “trt96” for taking the time to give me your opinion of my opinion. And you know what they say about options: “Opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one!”

    I’m sorry that you didn’t read the whole review after I lost you prompting your long diatribe. If you had, you would have read that there were some things I liked about the film and Ms. Z’s performance, including the phone booth scene. So there’s that.

    Also, there are many really good recordings from the time period portrayed. I don’t know why people assume there aren’t but that’s what the filmmakers claimed a while back. People who claim to be experts (and they’re all coming out of the woodwork now) should know that. In fact, I provided a link to just one example, but I guess you stopped reading before seeing it.

    I do know that it’s alleged that Ms. Z sang life, but I don’t buy it for every single song. Either she’s lip-syncing poorly to her recording(s) or the edited was off in post-production. That’s just my opinion. It was obvious to me and I’m not alone in that, for whatever that’s worth.

    If you had read the whole review, you would know that I didn’t pick apart every creative license taken and I really could have. There’s always creative license taken in any “biopic” but here they’re playing pretty fast and loose. But that was minor to me compared to the overall film which, again, I found to be boring. That’s just my opinion.

    Finally, in spite of what some might think, and I have said this for eons now, I really did want the film to be great and for Ms. Z to bowl me over but sadly she was worse than I had anticipated. But again, that’s just my opinion.

    I encourage everyone to see it on the big screen and to make their own judgments. I stand by mine.

    Thanks again for sharing your opinion of my opinion. I appreciate that fact that you took the time to share it!

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  15. Thanks Scott for your review. I agree with some of what you say, but certainly not all. But then, what a boring World it would be if we all thought alike!

    I cannot say that I was at any point bored during ‘Judy’ – far from it. I, and the packed audience I saw it with (in Greater London), were totally engaged. No one walked out, you could hear a pin drop, and many were moved to tears during the scene at the gay couple’s home, the phonebox scene and ‘Over the Rainbow’ – surely a sign that the film-makers had effectively evoked empathy and understanding for Judy through their film.

    I accept that Zelwegger’s singing is a poor substitute for Judy’s, and her movements during the numbers, awkward and mechanical. This took me out of the movie, especially during ‘By Myself’. Unlike you, I thought ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ was the best performance of the bunch, and ‘Over the Rainbow’ was very effectively acted (I had tears in my eyes).

    I found the script unbalanced, way too much on the tragedy. Where was the good times in Judy’s life?! I particularly agree with you about the constant referencing of the pill taking – really overemphasised. I also found Judy’s swearing on stage unnecessary and untruthful. Yes, she was no saint off stage, but I do not believe she used the ‘F’ word on stage, ever, to my knowledge. But then – artistic license! There were also lots of factual errors and mucking around with time (e.g. Judy married Deans in mid-March, not during the Talk of the Town run; the kids were older than portrayed, and you’re right about the Rosalyn character – Lorna Smith helped Judy at this time in her life, dressed her at her hotel, got her to the Talk of the Town, and stood in the wings as Judy performed – as set out in her book ‘Judy with Love’. There is photographic evidence showing that to be the case, but she is completely airbrushed out of the film.)

    I particularly appreciated that the filmmakers portrayed Judy as a deeply devoted and loving mother, doing the very best she could possibly do for her kids, while trying to navigate what had become, by December 1968, a difficult life, not least because of the need to earn money when she should have been resting.

    I agree we should have heard Judy’s voice, if not during the film, over the end credits. I disagree about Streep possibly doing Judy better than Zelwegger. Ultimately, no one can play Judy well. So true when Judy advised ‘it’s better to be a first rate version of yourself than a second rate version of someone else’!

    I believe Judy’s link to her gay fan base should have been developed further. The ending was too abrupt. I would have preferred some shots of the long queues of people waiting to view her body in New York, and text saying that the Stonewall riots kicked off on the day of her funeral.

    However, overall I found the film to be a deeply compassionate view of Judy. I think, certainly in the dramatic sequences, Zelwegger gives a powerful performance. Also, if this film makes people aware of Judy, and draws more people to seek out Judy’s films and recordings, that is a good thing.

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  16. Thank you! I appreciate your taking the time to write. Clarification: I said someone of the caliber of Ms. Streep, not Streep herself. Others have also incorrectly surmised I said Streep should have played her. I didn’t mean that at all.

    I respect your admiration of the film, more admiration that I have of course. 🙂 There were a few scenes that I liked, it wasn’t all bad. But for me, the basic plot was, as noted, boring. It came off as a series of the same vignettes over and over (after she got to London): Judy argues with someone, Judy gets wasted, they try to get her on stage. At times that’s broken by Judy’s wanting to be with her kids, which I thought was the only really redeeming quality about the characterization of her. They didn’t paint her as “Mommie Dearest” which she wasn’t of course. But it’s nice that they showed that side of her which speaks volumes about how she was, deep down, a genuinely kind person.

    I also enjoyed the sequence with the gay couple. That was nice and like you, I wanted more. Seeing her in a more casual setting with her hair down was well done. A few more coda sentences would have been nice, too.

    Anyway, I do appreciate your thoughts on the film and the fact that we can disagree without arguing. There is a lot of hatred online right now from those who love the film toward those who don’t, as though not liking the film is tantamount to not liking the real Judy Garland. It’s a very fascinating reaction (I don’t mean you, but those who are vehemently attacking anyone with a negative opinion), that a friend of mine surmised very well:

    “Maybe some of the fans’ craziness is really misplaced idolatry of Garland herself. Absent Judy herself, they will worship any surrogate, including Lorna, live or RZ on screen. If you criticize the fake Judy, they take it as a criticism of the real one, which is anathema to them. How dare you desecrate the holy memory of the divine one?”

    Fascinating and very true!

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  17. Hey Scott, totally understand what you say about Streep – that was me reading too fast!

    It’s strange, sad, but somewhat funny what you say about the hatred from those who love the film towards those who don’t. Funny, because it could be argued that the film does a terrible dis-service to Judy (on the basis that Judy’s own voice is completely silenced, Zelwegger’s singing is bad compared to Judy, and Judy would never in a million years have sworn at her audience). So, actually admiring the film could itself be viewed as desecrating ‘the holy memory of the divine one’ ! Just a thought from someone who likes the film!

    ‘Judy’ is a piece of fictionalised art, and of course we will all react differently to it, in the same way we react differently to other art. Our opinion of it shouldn’t reflect badly on any of us!

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  18. Ms Wilder was never Judy’s PA-she was an employee of Talk Of The Town. Judy’s PA at this time was Lorna Smith, the founder of The International Judy Garland Fan Club. Anyone who knows Judy’s career knows this, and there is photographic proof; I challenge Ms Wilder to produce photos of herself and Judy together during this run–I expect there are none, since she hijacked Ms Smith’s story to promote herself. Read Ms Smith’s book, ‘To Judy, With Love’–maybe you will learn something. Disgusting behavior by Ms Wilder to continue to exploit Judy.

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  19. Although I have yet to see the film “Judy” starring Renee Zellweger (other than its official trailer), and have serious doubts I even will see the film, I am inclined to agree with your assessment, “Scott B.,” mainly because I cannot see any actress (and Meryl Streep is too old at this point to portray even the end-of-life Judy Garland) improving upon Judy Davis’ portrayal of Garland in the 2001 made-for-television biopic “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” based upon Lorna Luft’s book (“Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir”) about her mother. Miss Davis not only looked a great deal like Garland in that made-for-TV (ABC) biopic, she also had Garland’s body mannerisms and vocal inflections down pretty close to perfect, even if Davis didn’t sing in the film (the musical vocals used were, wisely, Garland’s own).

    Other than Garland herself, perhaps only the late drag impressionist Jim Bailey could have offered a satisfactory rendering of Garland singing in a biopic anyway. I seem to recall Mr. Bailey had even Miss Garland’s stamp of approval, since Garland, like several female entertainers impersonated by drag impressionists, had seen Mr. Bailey perform and was thick-skinned enough to appreciate such.

    I have no problem with a film biography being produced which captures only a certain period of its subject’s life. But such a film and portrayal had better truly be excellent before it and/or the actor/actress are even nominated for any Academy Awards. And it seems from your review that “Judy” is way too flawed to be Oscar-worthy.

    I can recommend two other, related slice-of-life biopics, 1991’s “The Hours and Times” (directed by Christopher Münch, the film won the Special Jury Recognition award at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance that same year), which imagines what could have happened during a 1963 trip taken together to Barcelona, Spain by John Lennon and The Beatles’ homosexual manager Brian Epstein. David Angus effectively portrayed the contemplative seducer Epstein, while Hart looked amazingly like Lennon and also portrayed him in the 1995 film “Backbeat,” which I also recommend. That latter film (directed by Iain Softley) focuses on The Fab Four’s even earlier period living and performing in Hamburg, Germany, the relationship between original Beatles’ bassist Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff, in an incredibly stirring performance) and Lennon (Hart), and also with Sutcliffe’s German girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), who actually gave the band members their distinctive moptop haircuts and designed their collarless suits. Sutcliffe had abandoned the group just before they were elevated to worldwide stardom, and died from a brain aneurysm in Hamburg, Germany in April 1962 at the very young age of only 21 years old.

    I can recommend “Backbeat” even with its flaw in misrepresenting that Lennon sang cover tunes (such as Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”) actually sung by Paul McCartney in the period (1960-62), because the film still manages, overall, to convey a sense of what it was like to struggle in creating the identity of a later-successful band and how the underground (literally, in the case of Liverpool’s Cavern Club) rock and roll nightclubs in England and Germany appeared and sounded in the early 1960s.

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  20. You misunderstood my note about Ms. Wilder. I mentioned that she’s Judy’s PA in the context of the film, not in real life. I’m well aware of Lorna Smith.

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  21. I saw the movie “Judy” and was touched by it. The truth about the human being and mother finally told on the big screen. The Judy Garland that Renee portrayed cosmetically, looked like early sixties Judy from The Judy Garland show. The real Judy of 1968 and 69 looked older, even though she was only 46 and then 47 when she died . The movie was kind by showing the early sixties Judy. The real Judy of 1969 would have been too painful to watch cosmetically. The movie is slow at times, but what happens to Judy Garland during her life, was also slow suicide. Starting from when she was 2 years old. This movie doesn’t pretend to show her talent. Only film and recordings of the real Judy Garland can do that. It puts the great Judy Garland back in the spotlight for new generations. That should be applauded. New generations can now be curious to see and hear the Real McCoy. They can see it in her movies, in That’s Entertainment 1and 2 , The Judy Garland Show, Judy The Concert Years , Judy at Carnegie Hall and her many recordings! While watching “Judy” I was reminded of Judy’s own words in the CD “Judy Garland talks. Of course no one can capture Judy Garland’s talent in a movie with a person portraying her. But it is a reminder of the human being and mother behind the curtains and spotlight! Renee Zellweger herself is a fan and admirer of Judy Garland. To see and hear the real Judy Garland’s many blossoming stages of talent fortunately we still have her films, radio shows and music. Judy Garland forever!!!

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  22. I’m sorry Scott–my previous post was not directed at you at all, and I should have made that clear. I feel the movie got off on the wrong foot by unnecessarily creating/expanding Ms Wilder’s importance as a player in Judy’s TOTT engagement. I too enjoyed parts of the film, but left the cinema mystified as to why they made up so much stuff, when the truth is available, and endlessly more interesting.

    Thanks for your review!

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  23. Oh, no worries! We both misunderstood each other. 🙂 It’s all good! And yes, parts of the film were OK but overall it was, well, boring! For me, anyway.

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  24. Very much enjoyed your review. I’m afraid my bias was there even before I saw the film.. …as you said, not to hear Judy’s voice might make those who don’t know Judy wonder what the big deal was! And I agree with your description of Renée Zellweger’s vocals – average. Thanks heavens she didn’t do “Man That Got Away.”
    There was no insight into Judy’s iconic status , because all we saw were some references to The Wizard of Oz and that period towards the end of her life.
    I agree with Lorna Luft who said “If you really want to know about my mom, go see her movies and go listen to her recordings.”
    I’m thankful my local cinema is showing A STAR IS BORN in a couple of weeks, So I will hear Judy in glorious stereo.
    Meanwhile I’m going to watch the 2001 tv series, “Me and My Shadows” In which Judy Davis was so good as Judy.
    Can I just add that I remember the issue of Rainbow Review after Judy’s death – the front cover simply said – THE STARS HAVE LOST THEIR GLITTER.

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  25. Just happened upon this excerpt from a Brando biography–not sure if it’s been printed here before:

    “Work the talent. Hone the talent. Share the talent. This has been my life, and this was seen as healthy and necessary. Talent gives nothing to its owner: It only gives momentary pleasure to those to whom it is given. The application of talent depletes a person, while the study of things and people to feed it give great pleasure. But when you’re done sharing the talent, you’re empty and tired and terribly vulnerable, and if you have no one in your life to tell you to do things and to be there for them, you’re dead. Talent is not enough. Judy Garland is proof of that: She gave and she gave, and she had, in the end, nothing. No one to hold her–I mean HER, not the person known as Judy Garland. I am an example of this: I pursued talent and work and the marketing of it, and what do I have? What do any of us have? A lonely phone call in the night.”–Marlon Brando/ From Grissom’s “Come Up A Man: The Hungers of Marlon Brando

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