Judy - A-
Rated PG-13, 118 minutes
The vastly entertaining yet bittersweet musical biopic "Judy" does two things: perfectly captures the tragedy of a screen legend, and provides a smashing comeback for Oscar-winner Renee Zellweger, who in a brilliant, transformative turn, becomes Hollywood star Judy Garland.
Thirty years after starring in "The Wizard of Oz," beloved actress and singer Judy Garland (Zellweger) arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub that will help with her precarious financial situation. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans and begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans ("American Horror Story's" Finn Wittrock), her soon-to-be fifth husband.
"Judy" is directed by stage director Rupert Goold and is written by Tom Edge, based on the play "End of the Rainbow" by Peter Quilter. Even if you don't know Garland, you know her signature song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," used in such good context here, you're likely to tear up just hearing the first few iconic bars of it (as I did). And if you're not familiar with Zellweger, who has laid low in recent years, you will after seeing the film; her showy but touching turn as Garland is the film's highlight, and performances like this, always a bellwether for Oscars, should propel Zellweger back into the spotlight, just in time for awards season.
Zellweger's pitch-perfect turn nearly perfectly Garland's personality, mannerisms, glamorous look and troubled spirit. And yes, that is Zellweger singing all the tunes too, and while her voice is nowhere near a match for Garland's (but then, few would be), it's passable enough, made up by her exuberant stage performances. Goold's direction is solid, though it occasionally feels stagey, but the costumes and sets are impressive, and it helps that Zellweger is well-supported by Wittrock as Deans, Rufus Sewell as Sid Luft, "Chernobyl's" Jessie Buckley as Garland long-suffering London assistant during her tour, and Darci Shaw as a young Judy in flashbacks.
The emotional finale of "Judy" is a keeper, featuring two of Garland's best songs: the energetic "Get Happy" and the aforementioned "Rainbow" (and if you're a fan of Garland, many others are featured too), and this sequence alone should guarantee at least an Oscar nomination for Zellweger, and rest assured, you will need tissues too. "Judy" is an enjoyable, fitting tribute to Garland, and I have a feeling she too would've enjoyed it. A must-see for Zellweger's astonishing performance.