Dead at 47, Judy Garland had been in show business all her life, making her film debut at the age of seven as Frances Gumm in The Big Revue.
It was at Judy Garland’s home, quite some time ago, that an informal weekly dining club used to meet, consisting of the hostess, Fanny Brice, Katherine Hepburn, Ethel Barrymore and George Cukor. One evening Judy surveyed her guests and wondered aloud “What on earth do you suppose we all have in common?” To which Miss Barrymore replied: “We’ve all been on the brink of disaster all our lives.”
Rupert Goold’s biopic, JUDY, shows that precipice of fame and fortune, infamy and misfortune, in a carefully calibrated study of her late career that finally careened into calamity.
JUDY begins on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Young Judy is having second thoughts about her life as a child actor, exhausted and exploited by a Studio that exerts extreme control over every aspect of her existence.
Studio boss at MGM, Louis B. Mayer, is portrayed as a toxic male masquerading as an avuncular benefactor. He is manipulative and monstrous, litigation shy of a paedophile. He tells her, do everything he asks of her and he will make her a star, walk away and she will sink into oblivion.
Tantamount of child abuse, his control over this child starts her on a yellow brick road of drug abuse and relationship dysfunction.
Thirty years later and Garland is preparing to perform at a small LA venue with her young children, Lorna and Joey. Show business is all she’s ever known, but her voice is not what it was, her audiences are shrinking and she is deeply in debt. Judy is reduced to accepting appearance fees of a few hundred dollars.
In 1968, offers may have dried up in the US, but London still loves her – why not accept the invitation of Bernard Delfont to appear in a series of shows over a 5 week period at his fashionable nightclub, ‘The Talk of the Town’?
This beautifully poignant film deals primarily with that last year of Judy Garland’s life, cash strapped, separated from her kids, and newly remarried, a mass of neuroses, a star is torn.
Renee Zellweger is sensational as Garland, a career best with characteristic precision that is far beyond impersonation or caricature. It is a dazzling, heartbreaking and charismatic performance of a unique, albeit damaged, talent.
Production values are first class, with production design by Kave Quinn, costumes by Jany Temime and cinematography by Ole Bratt Birkeland bringing a sumptuous gorgeousness, an eye pleasing ambience of remarkable aplomb.
In turn tragic and triumphant, JUDY is a last will and testament to talent, the highs and the lows, the price of fame and the fortune in men’s lies.