Renée Zellweger had one of the most prolific 2000’s of any actress. She was nominated for three Oscars and won one in 2004 for Best Supporting Actress for Cold Mountain. Along with her nominated films, Zellweger starred in critical and box office hits, ranging from smaller dramas like White Oleander to animated kids hits like Shark Tale and Bee Movie.
Yet the 2010’s have been the opposite for Zellweger. With only five films and one T.V. show under her belt – compared to eighteen movies in the 2000’s – it felt like we had seen the last of Zellweger and the once perennial Oscar candidate’s heyday was over.
Well it would seem that Zellweger knew what she was doing because she’s back and better than ever. Her performance as Judy Garland in Judy is absolutely sensational and should garner Zellweger yet another Oscar nomination, her first in just over fifteen years. It’s just a shame the rest of the film isn’t nearly as good as Zellweger.
We all know Judy Garland for her infamous role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, yet this isn’t a movie about that part of Garland’s life. This film takes place when she is 47-years-old. Her star has dimmed and she is exhausted. She runs around town with her two kids and the three of them perform a stage show as Garland pops pills and downs vodka like it’s water all while not having a place to stay. She’s at the lowest of the low, especially when she has to go back to her ex-husband’s house so the children can have a place to sleep. All Judy wants to do is provide a good home for her children to live and the only way she will be able to do that is to do a string of performances in London, which unfortunately takes her away from her children and leaves them with the kids dad/her ex-husband. While there, Judy faces the stress and sadness she faced at home, while missing her kids and being haunted by her troubled childhood.
Watching Zellweger bring Judy Garland back to life was awe-inspiring. She completely immerses herself into the role and really becomes Garland. She nails everything about Garland, from the singing, to the voice, to the facial ticks, to her mannerisms when she performs on stage. There were moments when Zellweger was on stage performing where I felt like I saw Dorothy Gale singing. The eyes, the lips, and the overall stare brought me back to the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz. Zellweger also adds emotional depth to Garland, painting her as a tragic figure who was never loved properly and was almost raised as more of a product than a person. Whether it is expressed through dialog or a simple stare, you always feel for Judy and you always know what she is feeling. This is an incredibly showy performance, but Zellweger shows out in the best way possible.
Zellweger’s performance is the whole movie because without it Judy would be a nightmare. The film’s timeline is very jumpy and I lost track of what year it was and how long Judy was away from her kids. This was especially troubling because they don’t bring her children up in the movie that often. After Judy departs to London, the kids are almost forgotten, save for a couple expositional scenes where Judy tries to call them and one major emotional phone conversation that Judy has with her daughter towards the end of the movie. The kids were the driving point of Judy going to London, yet weren’t the driving point of Judy in the movie. The themes in the film aren’t fully realized either. Is this a movie about a tragic figure just trying to give her kids the love she never had? Is this a movie about how Judy Garland felt most loved when on stage in front of a crowd? Is this a movie about someone who was more of a product than a person and all she wants is to be loved like a person? Maybe all three, but none of them come through fully. On a technical aspect, like the timeline, the editing is rather jumpy, save for when Zellweger is on stage. There are also some really aggressive rack focus shots that are very jarring and really hard to ignore.
But even through its flaws, it’s Zellweger’s Oscar-caliber performance that makes Judy worth a look. This is a spectacular performance on every level and the return of one of our finest actresses.
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