Renee Zellweger Nails it in “Judy”

I went to the movie theater to see “Judy,” the recently released biopic about Judy Garland, and it exceeded my expectations. I’m a long-time fan of Judy Garland’s movies, music, and life, and this richly layered film convincingly portrayed the frailty and power of a Hollywood icon who had experienced manipulation and objectification from an early age.

The movie centers around Garland in the final year before her death by accidental overdose in 1969 in London, where she performed a five-week run of sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Broke and in desperate need of a change, she arrives in London after leaving her two children behind in the care of their father in the United States in order to boost her declining profile and make enough money so she can get back to her kids.

The film stars Renee Zellweger, whose heartfelt depiction of Judy Garland is spot on. It’s uncanny how much she resembles Garland in her later years. With talented makeup artists who spent hours to make her look the part, she dazzles with her brown contact lenses, wigs, and a prosthetic nose. Looks aside, she has Garland’s mannerisms down pat. From the twitchy way she moves her arms and hands, to her slight stoop, pursed lips, to the gravelly speaking voice, her sad persona behind her oft-forced smiles is visible in her eyes and is astonishingly convincing. And, she sings. We all know Zellweger can sing, as she did in the film, “Chicago,” and in “Judy” her training with specialized voice coaches pays off, as she belts out powerful songs with the unique Garland vibrato.

The film is also not without Garland’s witty phrases that characterize her. Throughout, Zellweger demonstrates Garland’s vulnerability and power, burdens which she carried throughout her life in front of cameras. From an early age, movie studios forced her to take uppers and downers to manage the long hours on set, and as she aged, she continued popping pills and consuming alcohol. It was clear that her substance-addled brain inhibited Garland’s ability to retain her managers and producers, who had increasingly found her to be unreliable. Even so, Garland was a proud woman, determined to be seen as a good mother to everyone who surrounded her. Zellweger’s compelling final performance of “Over the Rainbow” was an emotional and stirring confessional highlighting the angst of the love-starved entertainer at the end of her life.

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