It is more than likely true that other Hollywood stars had problems behind the scenes before the arrival of Judy Garland, but few would become as well known. As a young teen, Francis Gumm became Judy Garland, and the ruby red-slippered star of The Wizard of Oz had a tumultuous and wild start, to say the least. At MGM (where she stayed until 1950), she was looked over by the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer (who referred to the 4 ft 11 Garland as his “little hunchback”).
After the death of her father, the family was run with an iron fist by Judy’s domineering mother. The pills that Garland had to take at a young age started her down the path of drug addiction, and her cries for help to her mother fell on deaf ears, making it a surprise to no one that she would later refer to her mother as the “real wicked witch of the west.” Future husbands (she would marry five times) only added to a crushed soul in desperate need of care and understanding.
But hot dog, could she carry a tune.
Based off of the stage play “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter, Judy is set in 1968 (a year before her death). With her children Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey, Judy (Renee Zellweger) realizes that she is out of money. Learning from her own mother, Judy makes sure to be the best mother she can, but still must drop the kids off at their father’s (her fourth husband) house, producer Sydney Luft (Rufus Sewell).
The best that Judy can hope for money wise is to perform live in concerts in London. There is also a series of flashbacks to childhood (where she is portrayed by Darci Shaw), where she is under the thumb of Louis B. Mayer and her mother Ethel (Natasha Powell).
It is no secret that music biopics are about as “Oscar Baity” as they get, and Judy is no exception. The main reason most people would see the film is to see the Zellweger performance, and it is truly the only reason to see the movie. She is indeed wonderful, but not to the degree I was hoping. At times, it did seem like she was just screaming “Gimme an Oscar!”, but there were some moments that seemed like I was looking at the real Garland. She does have many of the physical mannerisms down (even seeming like she is under five foot).
I don’t think any of it is Zellweger’s fault, for she truly does a great job. The problem is that Judy Garland was a once in a lifetime performer. Zellweger is indeed a good vocal performer (as she showed us in 2002’s Chicago, a movie that I saw multiple times in the theater). Nevertheless, being compared to Judy Garland in the singing arena is downright unfair for anyone. As I am typing this, I am listening to both sing one of Garland’s most well known tune, The Man that Got Away (The song came from Garland’s 1954 film A Star is Born, the first remake of the film, for which Garland was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Grace Kelly for a movie called The Country Girl. I have yet to see Kelly in this film, but I am still confounded as to how Garland lost, for she gives one of the best powerhouse performances in history.)
Zellweger (who never sings this song in the movie) does a fine job, but in her own right. There was a uniqueness to Garland, just something that cannot be described, that cannot be replicated. Still, kudos to Zellweger for the effort.
Parents, the film is rated PG-13, mainly for thematic material and language (maybe one F bomb). It is a rather soft PG-13.
In a way, there were two paths that Garland paved the way for others to follow. One would be that of the troubled child star (undoubtedly one no one wants to follow). At the same time, the second path she paved was that of a vocal performer at the top of her game. Those that have followed in her footsteps on this second path would include Julie Andrews, Barbara Streisand, Liza Minelli (Garland’s daughter), Beyonce, and Lady Gaga. In the conversation of 20th century performers, she ranks right up there with Sinatra (who is given a humorous shout out in the movie).
It should come as very little surprise what song is used to end the film, (“Over the Rainbow”) being that it is Garland’s claim to fame (and possibly the most popular song in film history.) Despite Zellweger’s rendition, I stand firmly in saying it is a song that loses half of its effect if it is not song by Judy Garland.
It is her rainbow of a voice, and it will never be duplicated.