Monday, October 14, 2019

Judy

Judy
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Why does she mean so much to so many people, even today, over fifty years after her death? It’s hard for me to truly appreciate. I think there were better singers than her: Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, to name three. I think there were better actresses: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck.

She had something different, something to which people instantly responded. Part of her appeal might have been the result of seeing her on the screen from an early age and watching her mature into a young woman. A big part of it was because of That Movie. I suspect some of it is also pity for her deeply troubled off-screen life.

She, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, became a symbol after her death, but the symbol changes depending on who you are and what kind of life you live. Some of us, like me, just see her as a immensely talented actress and singer, beaten down by the Hollywood machine but immortalized by her fans into something much greater in the end. Others...

I can’t speak to the gay perspective. Intellectually, I get the how of it—“Over the Rainbow” as an unofficial gay anthem; the association with musicals; her respect for gay culture—but the why runs deep, and far outside of my experience... yet one can’t discuss her without at least acknowledging this facet of her legacy.

Suffice it to say Judy Garland spoke to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.


Judy is not the first film to depict her life, but it might be the most high profile, and coming as it does, so soon after the Gloria Grahame movie and the Laurel & Hardy movie (and even Juliet Naked if you wanna include fiction), it builds on a new sub-genre: “celebrities who spend their twilight years in England.” So remember, when you become rich and famous and decline in either your health or your popularity or both, hop on a plane to dear old Blighty for a third-act comeback and you’ll be just fine!

Actually, this film has a lot more in common with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, the Grahame film: a May-December (September? Garland wasn’t that old) romance with a younger man, health issues, an inability to perform properly on stage. There were times during Judy when I thought I was watching the same damn movie—but this, of course, is much bigger and splashier. Perennial Oscar bridesmaid Annette Bening gets the short end of the stick again, which is too bad, because I thought she was good in Liverpool.

Renee Zellweger showed off her song-and-dance chops in Best Picture-winner Chicago. Here, she’s more song than dance, but she’s no less able, even if she doesn’t sound like Garland. The hair and makeup job make her resemble Garland, if not personify her (I recall when Anne Hathaway was rumored for the part; a closer fit looks-wise). It was difficult to not see her as Renee Zellweger, but that’s the risk you take when you play someone world-famous.


Judy would be a by-the-numbers biopic except for her. I never saw Chicago (or her other big Oscar film, Cold Mountain), so I had never really appreciated just how good she was. I loved her in Jerry Maguire, of course, but that didn’t prepare me for this. She makes Garland into a real person, one to whom being a good mother ranked almost as high in her life as being a good entertainer, maybe higher, and while the hair and makeup help sell the role, they are not the role; she is. I think there may have been a fear of her falling into caricature, but if she did, I didn’t sense it.

Not too much else to say about this one. Celebrity biopics always make potent Oscar bait for someone eager to stretch their acting wings, and while it’s still early to call a winner, Zellweger has to be considered a frontrnner.

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Related:
Judy and Liza

2 comments:

  1. What you say of Zellweger's performance capturing a real person interests me. I didn't have any interest in watching this until that.

    My Judy fandom works in this way: I take Judy for granted and then I'll hear a certain song or come across a scene in a movie and I am blown away and reminded of her prodigious talent and ability to communicate. I berate myself and then fall back into taking her for granted.

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  2. Well, keep in mind I’m not as well-versed on the rest of her life as others. I don’t know the minutiae of her childhood, her marriages, etc., so I came into this with little in the way of expectations. That said, yeah, there’s a great emphasis on Judy as a mother that resonates strongly throughout this film and it humanized her for me.

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