Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Judy Garland, the screen legend who never won an Oscar, becomes awards bait in the new biopic about her. The movie Judy lets Renee Zellweger transform herself into the title character during a final concert series in London. With cropped black hair, an emaciated frame, and belting voice, Zellweger captures the spirit of a star millions loved but pitied for her personal demons.
Those demons add the element of tragedy that helps define the musical biopic genre; apparently none of us really care to watch a story about an incredibly talented, happy person with a perfect life. Drug abuse usually steps in as the major problem to overcome, and Judy's bouts with pills and alcohol make up much of her persona. Zellweger moves with the shakiness of an addict whose fix comes best when performing in front of a public whose love proved fleeting when things went wrong on stage.
Without the need to replicate the power of Garland in her prime, Zellweger gets the flexibility to do her own singing, a skill she demonstrated effectively in the movie version of Chicago. Zellweger's voice carries strongly but without sounding exactly like Garland, while make-up, hair and clothes make it clear who she portrays without making her an exact replica. Showcasing the fears, needs and vulnerabilities that Garland exuded takes precedence over absolute impersonation and gives the project a wistful sensibility under direction by Rupert Goold.
Overall, Garland's off stage moments allow little room for cheer, though the screenplay and Zellweger's comic timing show the performer as a basically nice person with some sharp insights and a self-depreciating sense of humor. The Judy everyone wants to see comes alive on stage with a repertoire of such famous tunes as "The Trolly Song" and "For Once in My Life."
Of course, one song stands above all as defining Garland, and few can hear any version of "Over the Rainbow" without some twinge of emotion. Zellweger runs with it, both in her verbal introduction and a singing style that puts a different spin on a heartrending song. The performance cries Oscar.
This review was originally aired on 10/10/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/judy#stream/0