Only a fool would attempt to interpret the one and only Judy Garland, on screen or anywhere else. Many have tried and failed (although Judy Davis has come closer to the mark on a now forgotten TV special), because no one can or should. Despite an avalanche of misguided raves, Renée Zellweger as the greatest entertainer of the 20th century in a film simply called Judy it is nothing but another expedient. You won't get the real deal here, no matter what hysterical gushing laws.
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The real Judy (as Piaf and Dietrich, two names were never needed) was a genius overload so complicated that it would never have been possible to put the whole story in a script, so the inability of poor Zellweger of transforming every aspect of a true legend of the show into an unforgettable whole is totally understandable. It doesn't look like Judy. However, he works so hard to offer his interrupted precision brand that grows on you, even if the film does not.
Focusing on the last tragic days of Judy's life, when she settled (and died) in London, during and following a series of physically grueling, emotionally disturbing, sold-out concerts produced by the infamous showman Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) in a club called Talk of the Town, the film avoids the elements that have made it unique and focuses on the dark, depressing ruin of a sparkling life. The result, I am sad to say, is a sorry, sick, self-indulgent melodrama in the melody of a note from a funeral song.
Broken, unable to sleep, eat or try, desperate to hold back the love of her children Lorna and Joey long distance after they were sent with the shortage to live across the pond with their father, Sid Luft, and consumed with the loneliness and the insecurity that led her to her last marriage to bartender Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), stumbled on stage night after night fortified by alcohol and tranquilizers, sometimes cursing the audience and falling on stage in the middle of a song. (He died at 47, six months after singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" a last time).
No doubt something happened. But there was much more. What Judy Misses is the unparalleled fact that has helped her survive punitive trials, both personal and professional, her dazzling sense of humor, none of which is evident here. Instead of a sober assessment of the greatest musical career in Hollywood history, what emerges Judy it's a drunken dossier of catastrophic self-destruction.
In the old, generic script of Tom Edge, directed in wood by Rupert Goold, annoying flashbacks, the demons that poisoned little Frances Gumm as a child in MGM to the successful commercial work given the name Judy Garland, are too fractured to have much sense. Hungry and drugged by Louis B. Mayer, pushed and denied a normal life, always encouraged to be different and promised that his fabulous voice would earn him millions of dollars before the age of 20: it all happened and Judy makes a weak stab at showing the huge price he paid for the celebrity.
Unfortunately, what we get is a litany of unpaid bills, hotels that have bounced in the middle of the night, endless custody battles with her Luft husband, lawsuits, breakdowns and suicide attempts. What we don't get are happy chapters, career triumphs or close ties with his children (I hardly imagine he had a daughter named Liza Minnelli, who appears briefly at a Hollywood party).
What you get is an abundance of Zellweger. A curious and dubious choice, he squints in a terminal grimace as he sulks, poses and purses his lips like someone accidentally swallowing a spoonful of turpentine. That said, I confess that Zellweger has an alleged alchemy, but none of the real magic that keeps Garland alive in the hearts of millions. The only missing element from which Judy never recovers is Judy herself!