Being six years old, I had seen The Wizard of Oz at least twice, including once by myself on the color TV set. (The Wicked Witch of the West so scared me that I could not watch the film alone in the den the first time). Beyond portraying Dorothy Gale, Mom introduced me to Judy Garland the star of variety shows that featured singing, dancing and comedy.
Starring Renee Zellweger in the title role, the new movie Judy features the entertainer’s swan song. Living off her fame, but performing at low budget night clubs with her children Lorna and Joe, Judy finishes a show, only to learn she does not have a bed to sleep in. After arguing with her fourth ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) about custody of the children, Judy gets a job offer to perform in London’s “Talk of the Town.”
The money is good, but years of prescribed substance abuse have taken their toll on this vulnerable 46-year-old mother of three. Having earned a reputation as being unreliable, Judy Garland’s swan song performance is an emotional roller coaster ride featuring insomnia, heartbreak and the divine grace of performance.
Renee Zellweger owns Judy. Besides performing her own singing, there are moments when the ghost of Judy Garland has returned to the big screen. Likely to be Oscar nominated, Zellweger’s performance is consistent. Her final close-up is a rare audience connection that bookends the beginning of the movie.
Based on the play End of the Rainbow, this new film explains the dark side of show business. The opening shot features young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) being told by Louie B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) that she is a plain, next-door girl that is separated by her beautiful singing voice. This scene echoes the Book of Genesis chapter in which Eve is seduced by the serpent.
Tears were shed, but the laughs are truthful, Judy is an entertaining tragedy with many life lessons. Parents who know that their children want to “run away to the circus,” should take them to see Judy as a family movie some afternoon. The discussion afterward will be genuine.