Film Review: JUDY

Film Poster: JUDY

Film Poster: JUDY

Boo-Hoo. A little girl was deprived of a childhood to become a world famous actress and singer. Not everyone has an idyllic childhood. Most of us would trade our lousy childhoods with the one manufactured for Judy Garland.

Sure, it’s all here – it has to be since the details of Judy Garland’s life has been so exhaustively detailed. The mean mother who pushed her young daughter into the ugly arms of sweaty, fat Louis B. Mayer (he called his biggest star the “little hunchback”), starved by the studio, the childish flirtation with Mickey Rooney, a glimpse of a fractured relationship with daughter Liza, tough husband Sid Luft, dragging her children Lorna and Joey around with no money, the suicide attempts (numbered by Luft as 20 times throughout the course of their 13 year marriage), five marriages and a life-long addiction to pills.

Poor Judy repeated the tale of a Dickensian childhood when she told Barbara Walters in a 1967 interview that her mother was a “mean” stage mother. “She was very jealous because she had absolutely no talent,” she said. “She would stand in the wings… and if I didn’t feel good… she’d say, ‘You get out and sing or I’ll wrap you around the bedpost and break you off short!’ So I’d go out and sing.”

“Childhood” as we know it today is a very modern concept. Your ancestors had miserable childhoods. 

Here is an example from thefinertimes.com: “Children in the Middle Ages, if they survived past early childhood, sometimes led lives full of turmoil and anguish.  Most children did not have the privilege of living the lighthearted and blissful lifestyle that many children experience in current times.  Because the time period was full of poor diet and sickness, the lifespan was cut short for many before they even reached adolescence.  Also, many children did not experience hours of playtime because they were put to work in order to help their families.”

Judy Garland was a hugely successful movie star created by a studio that imposed a strict diet, mood  pills and very long hours. But when your fellow actresses are sex goddesses Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor, what really could have been at the core of her unhappiness?

Charles Waters, a director who worked with Garland, referred to her as “the ugly duckling” of the industry, according to The Independent. He claimed the way the studio treated her “had a damaging effect” on Garland. “I think it lasted forever really,” he said.

Judy wasn’t the only child in films ruled by a Nazi-like organization. From 1935 to 1939, Shirley Temple was the most popular movie star in the country. She made a 23 films during the Depression. But after her 1940 film THE BLUE BIRD failed at the box office, Fox dropped her from the studio. Shirley Temple was a has-been at 12 years old. Months later, MGM picked her up. During her first visit, producer Arthur Freed invited her into his office, unzipped his pants, and exposed his genitals to Temple. She giggled and he threw her out. 

Perhaps Judy had heard the rumors that THE WIZARD OF OZ lead might go to Shirley. Maybe there was stardom rivalry. 

Director Rupert Goold chose to base JUDY, not on a life filled with hospitalizations, electric shock treatments, massive sick-day delays and high-strung behavior, but to adapt the musical “End of the Rainbow” which looks at Garland (Renee Zellweger) at 47 years old, when she agreed to perform in London. She had lost everything, but why? No career, no house, no husband and no money. She did finally accept that she had one worthwhile thing, the rarest woman’s voice type, a strong contralto voice.

All the suffering Judy Garland went through was blamed on a brutal monster – her film studio. What good came out of Judy’s incredible stardom? If there was so much pain, why didn’t she take Mayer’s advice and become a Kansas City diner waitress?

Judy had no friends. She must have been very hard to like.

No, we don’t want to see that story up on the screen, especially an icon like Judy Garland. Find something beautiful in the songs Garland sang. Sure, she was at the end of her long rope. But JUDY presents our heroine as trying valiantly to recover her lost magic.

Goold keeps Zellweger’s fall-back parched-lips expressions to a minimum. Zellweger’s Judy has a  pill addiction that hurts no one but herself. All she wants is to be a good mother to her children. Though there is one sly, telling scene with daughter Liza. Judy goes to Liza’s house for a party and briefly talks to her. Liza is excited to be opening a show the next day. When Judy asks her if she is nervous, Liza says no. Judy questions this, implying, in my interpretation of Judy’s backhanded comment, that Liza should be. Giving Liza doubt about her singing abilities says a great deal about Judy’s jealousy of Liza’s talent.

Fifth husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) is treated rather well by Goold. Whatever sexual relationship they  had or had not, as played by Wittrock, Deans seemed genuinely sincere. He looks at Judy like she is very desirable.

Zellweger requires a strong director to frame her performance and Goold has a firm hand on shaping her as Garland. The thing that bothered me is this Judy Garland is a frolicking child-woman, not a seasoned, hard-edged star bred and raised in still the toughest profession for women.

Film Image: JUDY

Film Image: JUDY – Renée Zellweger and Finn Wittrock in Judy (2019)

Garland’s epic performance disaster is rather minor considering what so many rock and roll bands have done today at huge arenas. Creed’s show at the Allstate Arena in Chicago in 2003 would go down in history as a concert so dreadful that audience members sued them. According to court documents, Creed’s lead singer Scott Stapp “was so intoxicated and/or medicated that he was unable to sing the lyrics of a single Creed song. Instead, during the Creed concert, Stapp left the stage for long periods of time, rolled around on the floor of the stage in apparent pain or distress, and appeared to pass out while onstage.” 

Mariah Carey has given lots of noteworthy and awful performances. On New Year’s Eve 2016, Carey gave one of her worst performances ever. She lip-synced her way through all her hit singles at Times Square before she simply gave up. Before leaving the stage she came up with this to explain her  trainwreck of a performance: “It just don’t get any better.”

Finally, I sincerely hope that Goold’s ending, the trite ending of everyone in the audience singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with Judy, never happened.

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About Victoria Alexander

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/author/author-3571/ Contributing to: FilmsInReview: http://www.filmsinreview.com FilmFestivalToday: http://www.filmfestivaltoday.com Las Vegas Informer Group: LVInformer.com Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org
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