Judy (2019)

I’ve been reading a lot about the deaths of beloved stars. Like Elvis, who struggling through his final concerts while raving in a mania about killing the karate instructor who he thought stole Priscilla from him to the point he had to be drugged into incoherence before dying from quite possibly overstraining himself on the toilet because all the prescription drugs had torn up his insides so badly. People who had everything but it felt  like nothing, who lived supposedly charmed lives but had given so much of themselves away that there was nothing to do but, well, die.

What can I say? 2019 has kinda been like that.

So here’s another tale of stardom not being as wonderful as it seems, based on the Peter Quilter play End of the Rainbow. This time, we’re following the end of Judy Garland’s career as she relocates to England for a series of sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town in London, only for things to fall apart all over again.

Quilter went on record about the loose adaption of his play by saying that screenwriter Tom Edge wanted the story to be much more true and precise and have less fantasy sequences than his play.

Critics have been all of the map on Renee Zellweger’s performance as the lead. Me, I still can’t come to grips with her new head, but then again, I’m not a woman trying to maintain my relevance in Hollywood. Far be it from me to demand that celebrities not get work done. She acquaints herself well with the musical numbers here to the point that there are moments to cheer about. And it never gets to Lifetime movie mania, so that’s good. Or bad, because you know, I like to wallow in the mud when it comes to biographies.

There’s a scene in the beginning that feels lifting from Crazy RIch Asians as Judy and her two kids can’t afford to stay in a room any longer. But instead of being a lesson in how hotel owners underestimate people, it’s just to illustrate how far Ms. Garland has fallen.

Finn Wittrock, who has been in so many of the American Horror Story shows, plays Garland’s fifth and last husband, Mickey Deans.

Sir Michael Gambon is also here as Bernard Delfont, or by his full title, The Right Honorable Baron Delfont, who was born in Russia as Boruch Winogradsky. He ran the Talk of the Town, bringing in big stars like Sinatra, Shirley Bassey and Eartha Kitt. As EMI’s chief executive from 1979-1980, he also funding for Monty Python’s Life of Brian at the last moment, worried over the religious satire in the film.

Of all the movie, I really enjoyed the flashbacks to Garland’s early life in Hollywood, such as her interactions with Louis B. Mayer, as he explains to her that the gift she has makes her better than other girls, but that it comes with a cost. Or a flashback to a date with Mickey Rooney where a studio executive interrupts so that she can take her amphetamines so she’s not too hungry.

There’s also a nice moment where the two fans who see her every night are surprised that she wants to follow them out for an evening, ending with an all-night singing session at one of their apartments. It’s a pretty emotional moment realizing that Garland has lost so much that these two fans represent nearly all she has left.

Liza Minnelli said on her official Facebook page that she had “never met nor spoken to Renée Zellweger” and made it clear that she didn’t approve of the project. She’s played by Gemma-Leah Devereux from The Tudors in the movie.

Speaking of celebrity, Jessie Buckley, who plays Garland’s assistant in England, broke into showbiz on a reality show called I’d Do Anything. One week, she sang Garland’s “The Man That Got Away.” She’s good in the film, but it seems to set up that there’s going to be a moment of catharsis or learning between their two characters.

That never happens, just a sort of feel good moment where Garland stumbles at singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the audience helps her finish it, before she asks them to not forget her. This is followed by the gut punch of learning she died six months later.

I guess this is the opposite of a feel good movie. A feel bad one? A good cry? A reminder than maybe it’s a good thing you never became a famous star? You can decide that for yourself.

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