Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy. PIC: Universal Film, Screen A Garland aficionado reviews new biopic ‘Judy’ By Bill Farr | October 23, 2019 | Bill Farr is an art director with a long-standing fascination with the work of Judy Garland. Her ill-fated concert tour of Australia was the inspiration for his exhibition of photo-realist drawings, and the subject of his production JUDY • AUSTRALIA • 1964, which premiered in Melbourne this year. He reviews Judy, starring Renée Zellweger in the title role. * There are some genuinely moving moments in director Rupert Goold’s Judy, some spine-tingling moments of revelation – that yes, this is Garland up on the screen. The moments are fleeting. The quick recognition of a long-shot of Garland in her dressing room, surrounded by flowers, with a portion of her face reflected in a magnifying mirror – the inspiration for which are black-and-white images of the star backstage in 1968 – brings the moment gloriously to life. The devastating call from a London phone box to her younger daughter in the US, mirroring a similar scene in Garland’s final film, I Could Go On Singing. Judy backstage, behind the curtain, waiting to go on – summoning up the powerful nervous anticipation of performance. One gets the same anticipation whenever Renée Zellweger’s Judy arrives on stage. The Talk of The Town (the theatre where Garland performed her final five-week season of shows) is thrillingly reconstructed. The atmosphere is just right. The noise, the colour, the musos – there to do a job, the audience – there to be entertained. It’s just about perfect. And then Zellweger sings. Much has been made of the fact that the actress does her own singing in this film. One applauds the bravery of that decision, but, sadly, it’s the film’s biggest flaw. Garland fans will be engaged, will recognise and empathise, but will ultimately be disappointed with the presentation of the one thing that made her great – her singing. Goold assumes that we know the greatness of Garland, but we never see (or hear) it. Zellweger’s voice comes close only once, during an effective rendition of Over The Rainbow*. This comes at the end of the film, with its satisfying – if melodramatic – close. However, in the scenes where Garland is apparently at her best (and at her best, there was none better) it’s hard to find the legend. True, in 1968, her voice was past its prime, but it could still soar, and it could still move. For any filmgoer new to Garland, the set-piece musical performances would do little to enlighten them of her incredible talent – with the shock of her downfall losing its power. So, who is this film for? Zellweger fans will be delighted by the film and her performance. And with good reason. She captures the impish humour of Garland – the one thing that seemed to hold her together through drama after drama. Her delivery is often uncannily accurate. The make-up and wardrobe departments also shine (except for the cosmetic teeth, which appear to have been borrowed from Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek– an Academy Award, please, for dental invention). Garland fans will be engaged, will recognise and empathise, but will ultimately be disappointed with the presentation of the one thing that made her great – her singing. And everyone else? It’s an engaging biopic with a straightforward narrative, which likely suffers against its two most recent rivals: Bohemian Rhapsody, with its soaring dramatic arc and effectively reconstructed performances; and Rocketman’s fantasy retelling of a similarly troubled life in the public eye. My advice? If you want to see an actress become Judy Garland, go no further than 2001’s Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, a two-part television miniseries, with the title role played brilliantly by Judy Davis. Davis had the luxury of Garland’s voice to mime to, but it’s some of the best lip-syncing you’ll ever see (outside of a gay pub in Prahran or Oxford Street). If you want to see Judy Garland become Judy Garland, then see the aforementioned I Could Go On Singing, made in 1963 – a melodrama that enjoyed a tepid reception – which drew eerie parallels to Garland’s own life. And most notably, she does the singing. *This is an edited version of the review. The original version claimed that some of Zellweger’s songs appeared to have been pre-recorded, then filmed. However, all the songs in the movie were filmed live. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Bill Farr Bill has 40 years of experience in the publishing industry as a designer, illustrator and art director, working for Penguin Books, Time Magazine and Fairfax Media. As Art Director at The Age, he won two Walkley Awards and three Melbourne Press Club Quill Awards. He was also an occasional contributor to The Age as a writer.