- Rupert Goold
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 58 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
The much-anticipated film bio of Judy Garland is both sad and exhilarating. Peter Quilter’s stage play “End of the Rainbow” is the source for Tom Edge’s script directed by Rupert Goold. Everything you have read about Renée Zellweger’s capturing the mannerisms and the spirit of the beloved star is true. Even for someone (however unlikely) unfamiliar with the singer’s classic The Wizard of Oz will be moved by the film.
Although it focuses upon Judy Garland’s last year in England, the film begins with a flashback of MGM studio mogul Louis B. Mayer talking to the young Judy (Darci Shaw) as they walk on the yellow brick road of The Wizard of Oz. Towering over the 4”11” girl, Mayer lectures her like a rich uncle, pointing out that she can either choose between an ordinary life or that of a star. “Your job, Judy, is to give them (the ordinary people) their dreams.”
As star of film, stage, TV, and concert hall, Judy certainly did that, but in the film’s present (1968/69) Judy’s own dreams are crumbling. So deeply in debt, mostly due to the malfeasance of her shady mangers, that she has lost her home. She has been living in a hotel until one night, with her two youngest children in tow, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) looking on, she goes through the humiliation of the manager turning her away because of her long over-due bill. She is forced to leave the children with their father, her embittered ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), who would like to obtain custody of them. In the Gateway On-line Bible Psalm 88 is given the heading “Prayer for Help in Despondency.” Although she is not religious, Judy is certainly in that state of mind and spirit when she has to give up for a while the care of her children.
Desperately in need of money, she reluctantly accepts the invitation from London night club owner Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) to perform a nightly five-week engagement at his upscale Talk of the Town nightclub. She seems in a haze upon arriving in London, barely connecting with her handler Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) and telling her pianist Burt (Royce Pierreson) she does not need to rehearse. At first the star, though even she admits she is past her prime, is well received by the audiences, but as the effects of her alcohol and drug consumption mar her performances (she insults the audience at times), it looks like her career has crashed. She does find romance in her new manager Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), her junior by over a decade. At their first meeting she reveals her self-deprecating humor when he pays her the compliment, “the greatest entertainer in the world,” and Garland looks around the room and asks, “Is Frank Sinatra here?” Mickey will become her fifth husband.
The first flashback is followed by others, the filmmakers apparently thinking we need to be informed that it was the MGM executives and her hovering mother who ruined Judy’s childhood and started her on the pills to which she became addicted. In one scene she is sitting in a restaurant on a “date” set up by the studio—press photographers are capturing the scene, and her studio handler sits at another table behind Judy. A plate of a hamburger and a heap of French fries set before each of them, the always hungry Judy looks longingly at the sandwich. She picks it up, but before she can bite into it, the studio stooge intervenes, sternly reminding her of the studio’s dictates concerning her figure and diet.
No attempt is made to tell the singer’s complete biography, just enough details that led up to that last year. There is just one scene with her older daughter Liza Minelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux), whose career was rising as her mother’s was falling. And there is a nod to the fact that Judy was widely embraced by the gay community for being somewhat of an outcast like themselves. In this latter scene a gay couple stand outside the club waiting for her to sign their program, and she impulsively invites them to join her for supper. Unable to find a restaurant still serving at such a late hour, they invite her to their flat for a home-cooked meal. Probably apocryphal, the scene is a rich one stressing the fellowship of societal rejects. It might also remind us that 1969 marks both the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and of Judy Garland’s death.
Judy is depicted as a victim, and yet also a conqueror by the way she fought to come back each time she fell. Although we enjoy hearing some of her heart-felt songs such as “Get Happy,” it is the one sung at the climax that we thrill at (and which we have been anticipating)—“Somewhere Over the rainbow,” of course—because it is used as her final come-back after the miserable failure with Talk of the Town’s audience.
The grim end note informs us that six months after this triumph she died as a result of accidentally overdosing on her drugs. Sad as this is, it cannot dispel the feeling of victory that “Over the Rainbow” has instilled. The rainbow might have been short-lived for Judy, but the rich treasure of her singing that she has left us (a treasure as close as YouTube or a song app) will last us forever. And I have no doubt that in the near future there will be a lot of Oscar buzz featuring Renée Zellweger. Her acting, not trying to imitate, but capturing the mannerisms and tics of Judy, is superb, as is her singing. What a risk to take, instead of relying on dubbing, as was the case with Judy Davis in the 2003 Emmy-winning miniseries “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.” None of the critics whose reviews I have read write a disparaging word, most pointing out that Judy’s voice was past its peak at that time, and so Ms. Zellweger did not need to try to compete with that one-of-a-kind voice.
Not all stories need to end “and they lived happily ever after” for us viewers to leave the theater with a sense of admiration and pleasure. Judy is one of those, making viewers grateful that its subject lived and filled the world with so much aural beauty.
This review will be in the October issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.