Biopics are a tried and true genre in filmmaking, usually coming up every Awards season and garnering oodles of nominations. We saw this last year with Bohemian Rhapsody, and there are a handful of biopic contenders coming down the pipeline. In fact, a few contenders are premiering at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Chief among them is Rupert Goold’s Judy, starring Renee Zellweger as the legendary Judy Garland. Garland’s story is one of great sadness, but what the movie miraculously does is not present it as a joyless tragedy.
Judy Garland is one of the most iconic American film stars of all time, and one that continues to be a household name thanks to her work in beloved films like The Wizard of Oz, A Star Is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Easter Parade. Garland had an infamously difficult life in the public eye, struggling with personal issues and substance issues. Renee Zellweger had the lofty task of playing the late icon, in her first big movie musical since Chicago.
Judy focuses on the title character’s sold-out run in Britain during 1969, just six months before her infamous tragic death. Rupert Goold doesn’t hold back in showing Garland’s flaws, as a professional, a mother, and an addict. But she’s also not vilified or admonished for her choices. Instead, the movie shows how much happiness she brought people, and the movie itself will no doubt spark plenty of joy for moviegoers when it gets its upcoming release.
Judy Garland’s difficult life is presented from the film’s opening sequence, but it’s not inherently obvious at first. We see glimpses of a younger Judy on the set of The Wizard of Oz, with a set that will instantly delight even the most casual cinephiles in the audience. It’s this duality that Rupert Goold masters so well. Because even as we see Garland depend on her vices and make mistake after mistake, the biopic also highlights her quick wit, empathy, and ability to capture a room.
This is a dynamic that really moves Judy forward as a movie, and helps buoy the project. Rather than simply being a downer and making its subject into a figure to pity, the movie inspires audience to have hope, despite the grim fate of Judy‘s subject. We see how much she wants to do the right thing, even if Renee Zellweger’s character so often fails to do so. Flashbacks into Garland’s backstory help to illuminate her sordid history, and inform her decisions throughout the film’s runtime.
As for Renee Zellweger, she provides another career best performance. This is especially impressive considering her hiatus from the film world. Zellweger uses the pipes she showed off in Chicago, but transforms her voice (singing or otherwise) and physicality to becoming Judy Garland herself. It’s a stellar outing, and one that I imagine will get plenty of nominations come awards season.
Judy will get its wide theatrical release September 27th. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.