If you have not seen Judy Garland play Dorothy Gale in in the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz than please stop reading this review now and go watch it! For everyone else, you know just how much fame and glory Judy Garland got for being the lead in the movie. But many don’t know about Garland’s last and most painful chapter in her life, just months before her death at age 47. The 2019 film Judy, directed by Rupert Goold and adapted for the big screen by screenwriter Tom Edge, is based on the Tony-nominated West End and Broadway play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. The film stars Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland and takes up back to the year 1969, when the famous singer and actress arrived in London for a five-week run of sell-out concerts while struggling to come to terms with depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.
The film starts with a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939 when she was only a teenager. She is told my MGM head Louis B. Mayer that the only thing that makes her special is her voice. He controls what she eats, when she sleeps, and practically all aspects of her life while filming The Wizard of Oz. Flash forward to 1969, Judy and her two kids Lorna and Joey are set to perform for a crowd in Los Angeles for a mere $150. After being kicked out of one hotel, Judy has no choice but to leave her children with their father Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) while she goes off to London to perform at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Shortly before she leaves, she meets Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) at a Hollywood party and he promises to come see her in London one day.
When she arrives in London, she is introduced to her new assistant, a proper but charismatic Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) and to concert show-runner Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) who is eager to show her off to the sold-out English crowds. Judy is less than thrilled to perform, still taking a steady diet of a pills, the same ones Louis B. Mayer had forced her to take to reduce her appetite and to help her sleep. She performs her first concert with a charming bandleader Burt (Royce Pierreson) and is greeted after the show by two fans who happen to be a middle aged gay couple. They end up going their apartment when all of the restaurants in London happen to be closed after midnight, leading one of them to make a royal mess of scrambled eggs, ones that even Judy could not fix but ends up eating anyway.
On day, after a concert Mickey Deans surprises her in London and their instant emotional attraction to each other is evident. He promises her the world, and most importantly that she could come back to the United States with money and be with her children. They are married in London and Rosalyn and Burt gift them an insanely amusing yet dangerous display of indoor fireworks and firecrackers. We soon realize that Mickey’s promises are pretty worthless and the anxiety causes Judy to show up drunk at one her performances, as she is unable to perform and is booed off stage. Delfont is not pleased and chooses English singer and guitar player Lonnie Donegan (John Dagleish) to replace her as headliner. Devastated, Judy feels even stronger the pain of being away from her children. Sidney Luft comes to London to try to work out a custody agreement but that leads to nowhere.
Having been replaced as headliner of her own concerts, Judy begs of Donegan one last song before she departs the state, and she ends up being loved by the crowd, singing multiple songs including an absolutely breath-stopping performance of “Over the Rainbow” with the help of the crowd. I am not sure if it was Renée Zellweger’s version of the song, or the absolute sorrow that Judy Garland herself must have been feeling during that performance, but it is absolutely the moment of the movie and will probably be used in clips for her eventual run to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Zellweger herself carries the movie quite well, even when there are slower and less important moments, but she is also aided tremendously by the brilliant supporting cast of Jessie Buckley and Finn Wittrock.
It’s hard not to be very emotional by the end of the movie, with Zellweger wearing her heart and emotions on her sleeve, and her desire to go out with the best possible performance she is able to garner. Judy Garland’s status as cultural and film star can’t be overshadowed by the final dark days of her career, but at least we can learn to be compassionate and continue to love and admire her as much as we do today. She is a true legend and this film cements that legacy. This film also may cement the legacy of Renée Zellweger, as she also deserves much the same redemption as Judy Garland deserved by the end of the movie.
Have you seen JUDY? Well, what did you think?