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Judy

Renée Zellweger’s Judy Garland reclaims the spotlight

© Roadside Attractions Trying to reignite her career, legendary performer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) arrives in London in the winter of 1968 to perform a series of sold-out concerts.
     Nineteen-sixty-eight finds Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) trying to outrun a ruined reputation. She’s considered past her prime, unemployable and unreliable. Deeply in debt, she needs money to keep her children in a custody dispute. 
      Her situation complicates her attempts at being a good mother. She includes her kids in the small shows she can book. They live out of chancy hotels and stay up late. When her ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) insists on a more stable life for the kids, Judy rallies.
       Burned in Hollywood, Judy aims for London. Leaving the kids, she takes a lucrative offer to perform at Talk of the Town, a huge club that guarantees sell-out shows.
      Judy has bigger problems than a custody battle.
      Having lived on a diet of studio-sanctioned uppers and downers since she was barely a teen, she can’t function without a handful of pills morning, noon and night. She washes the pills and her feelings down with alcohol. Desperate for love, she clings to anyone who pays her attention. Sleep is elusive or filled with nightmares about her past as Louis B. Mayer’s favorite emotional punching bag. 
      Can she find success in London? Or will this be yet another disaster for the beleaguered singer?
      Much like the woman herself, Judy should be remembered for the performance, not the plot. The by-the-numbers look at Garland’s tragic final years is saved by Zellweger’s stunning performance. Assuming you know a bit of the Garland story, the film doesn’t look back. Building tension ensues, as when you know a car crash is coming — but when?
      Director Rupert Goold (King Charles III) oversees a lovely, if rote, film. A wonderful long take follows Judy from backstage to center stage, capturing the frenetic lead-up and immense energy of her nightly performances. A touching sequence involves a couple of sympathizing English superfans who know how cruel the world can be. Balancing the fine scenes are plot contrivances and dramatic clichés.
      All is redeemed by Zellweger’s star turn. Makeup and hair help her look the part, with mannerisms and signature moves completing the illusion. Zellweger gorgeously captures Garland’s trembling nervous energy in her final years. She’s funny, talented and always seconds away from a breakdown. Zellweger also does her own singing, assuming the Garland style rather than attempting to mimic that once-in-a-lifetime voice. It’s a wonderful piece of acting — and a movie well worth the ticket.
Good Drama • PG-13 • 118 mins.
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