Just over a week ago I went to see the film Judy, a film about the iconic film star Judy Garland. It is set in the winter of 1968 when Judy arrives in London to perform for a sold-out run of concerts. These would prove to be her last and I found it an incredibly moving biopic of the star. The next morning I wrote the following which I’d like to share with you now.
Judy is not an accurate, historical depiction of the last few months of the life of Judy Garland. There are aspects of it that are of course but this is a lifetime rolled into a few months. Flash backs to the set of The Wizard of Oz, pills given to a young teenager just to make sure she was up when she needed to be and down when not, and then of course, when the drugs started to have no effect whatsoever. This wonderful, beautiful lady. She spent her life being wanted for her voice and the way it made others feel. Yet her self-esteem was low. There was always someone prettier and slimmer just waiting to take her place, or so she was told. People basked in her spotlight and yet it seems that the times when she met rock bottom they could be so unforgiving. The alcohol and addictions a byproduct of her childhood, how could she ever hope to overcome them? How could a lifetime of abuse ever not leave lasting damage?
Stunningly acted by Renée Zelwegger, Judy is, although heartbreakingly sad, a celebration of the person behind the voice. Her compassion, her fierce love for her children and her desire for normality. What I think the film had succeeded in, is to capture the essence of her life in just these last few months. The abuse, the loneliness, the loss of money, and much of it through no fault of her own, but she ultimately shouldered the responsibility.
Afterwards I delved deeper to see which elements of the film were added for ‘artistic licence’ and of course there is quite a bit. Perhaps if you are a stickler for historical accuracy then this may not be the film for you. It most certainly isn’t a documentary. Scenes and moments have been added as an expression of who she was and what she endured. I won’t be too specific so as not to spoil it but the portrayal works well to capture the love and adoration she received, her compassion and sense of connection with those who were considered a little different (such as the LQBT community at that time) and the persecution of it. Her highs when she found love and the hope of someone who she thought loved and needed her, and the crashing lows as it all came falling down. How the audience could be cruel if she wasn’t on her game (who throws rolls and boos someone til they run off stage?) and how they all wanted to be a part of it when she was on top. Of course she loved that audience and the adoration that she received but what this film shows is the sacrifice she made for it. From a very early age she was told she wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t thin enough, how she would be forgotten in an instant if it wasn’t for her voice. In that respect she was doomed from the beginning, perhaps never actually feeling loved and accepted for herself.
The final scenes where Judy is performing her final London performance is wonderful, it shows her at her best, pulling in the crowd, making them feel, making them love her. Yet it also shows her at her most vulnerable, showing just how much the business took from her and how, ultimately, there was nothing left to give. Renée’s performance here was particularly moving.
For me this is a film that encapsulates a life lived. A life of extreme highs but also many lows. There are moments of such tenderness that took my breath away along with my resolve to not cry along with it. Please don’t expect this to be historical accurate in every detail but understand that it is still Judy laid out before us.
It made me wonder about this actress who has always had a small part in my own life from the moment I watched The Wizard of Oz as a young child. Yes, the rainbow is slightly tainted now but it will never stop me enjoying the wonder of that incredible film that must have proved so magical when it first hit cinema screens. I remember saying to my son once as we sat watching the screen turn from black and white to colour. ‘Imagine that! Imagine seeing that beautiful colourful landscape up on the big screen for the first time’. Those magical ruby slippers that would eventually take Dorothy home. Judy Garland, I wonder, must have found it much more difficult to get there.
Judy Garland has never stopped touching people’s lives, she is still in the thoughts and hearts of many people. Only a few weeks ago I read and reviewed My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt. As well as my own personal interest in the star reading this book os one of the reasons I was so keen to see the film. I was intrigued by this star who sill had such a hold over people.
There is still so much that I don’t know about Judy Garland but one thing that I am sure about is that she will always be remembered and will never stop moving people. Long after the body is gone the song still remains.
*The film cover image is from the imbd website where there is further information about the film.