Judy showcases the final moments of the true-life tragic tale of Judy Garland’s rocky career. Trouble on the home front leads Judy to make a series of career choices that trigger her depression, leaving her vulnerable to her own addictions while she’s performing abroad. Like watching a train wreck played back in slow motion, knowing how it’s going to end won’t stop the audience from cringing through the darker parts, and yet they will find themselves bouncing back up for the showstopper performances.
Focusing on the dramatic later portion of her career, Judy launches us into the tumultuous life of a now homeless Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger), who seems desperately conflicted to be both adored by her fans as well as to love and be loved by her children. Sadly, she must leave them in the care of her third husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) so she can try to recoup her life and finances in London, where a five-week series of sold-out concerts at The Talk of the Town could finally bring her back to the top.
However, thirty years since The Wizard of Oz launched her international superstardom, Judy’s voice is starting to fail her. Drugs, alcohol, and depression have depleted her physically, mentally, and emotionally. After four failed marriages and the inability to provide for her children, she’s still fighting for love as she falls for her much younger and soon-to-be fifth husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).
If only the outpouring of love from her dear fans could save her from her own self-sabotage, Judy might have a chance to overcome. But life has other plans for the dark-humored, beautiful talent gone awry.
Director Rupert Goold (True Story, The Hollow Crown) pays homage to Judy Garland while cashing in on her hardships, which were both iconic, and cinematic. The tender balance between telling the truth and honoring the legend is a fine line to walk, and it is masterfully attended to here. What could have been a campy documentary showing the highlight reel of Judy Garland’s life, instead becomes an exploration of the depths of tragedy to which one can succumb when the person is pushed past their limits.
Writer Tom Edge (Lovesick, The Crown) picks from a broad spectrum of material and whittles it down to the bare bones, giving us some sense of the depths of misery and elation that Judy Garland fluctuated between. The life moments encapsulated by Judy’s choices are relatable and heartbreaking.
Though the material is based on the hit London and Broadway play “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter, which all takes place in Judy Garland’s dressing room, there is plenty of song, dance, and action in Judy to please a movie-going crowd that’s used to more spectacle. It also allows us to travel through time from the set of The Wizard of Oz to her final days.
Ultimately, there is so much to love in Judy that it’s remarkable, with a soundtrack of both familiar and less common songs all skillfully performed by Renée Zellweger. Uplifting even through the sadness, it’s a biopic that desperately puts its all into one last performance, just like Judy Garland would have done.