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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Rupert Goold
scr Tom Edge
prd David Livingstone
with Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Darci Shaw, Royce Pierreson, Andy Nyman, Richard Cordery, Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd, Gemma-Leah Devereux
release US 27.Sep.19,
19/UK Pathe 1h5
TORONTO FILM FEST
Based on Peter Quilter's stage play End of the Rainbow, this biopic centres on a couple of months near the end of Judy Garland's life in 1969. It's a warm, sympathetic portrait that doesn't overlook her flaws, even as it tries to excuse them through flashbacks. Still, as she sings those gorgeously iconic songs herself, Renee Zellweger gives such a heartfelt performance that the film is unmissable.
When her erratic behaviour leaves her unable to pay her hotel bills, Judy (Zellweger) drops her younger kids (Ramsey and Lloyd) with her ex-husband Sid (Sewell) and takes a job performing in London for theatrical impresario Bernard Delfont (Gambon), who assigns Rosalyn (Buckley) to watch over his star. Judy eschews rehearsals, but of course comes alive on stage. Still, her eating disorder, substance addictions and sleep deprivation take their toll. She's revived when Mickey Deans (Wittrock) joins her, and becomes her fifth husband. But all she wants is to be a mother to her kids.
The film flickers occasionally back in time to the set of The Wizard of Oz as the young Judy (Shaw) is continually forced to toe the line by studio boss Louis B Mayer (Cordery), who gives her pills instead of food. These scenes are of course echoed decades later in the way Judy continues to punish her body. There's also a subplot clearly designed to play to Judy's status as a gay icon, including a lovely sequence that takes an emotional look at LGBTQ history through the eyes of a superfan (Nyman).
Zellweger's performance often feels magical, capturing both physical details and personality quirks to convey Garland's sharp sense of humour and brittle self-awareness. She may be fragile, but she's never a victim. And perhaps the film works a little too hard to highlight her hopefulness, leading to a climactic, and breathtaking, rendition of Over the Rainbow. Shaw is remarkable as the strong-willed teen Judy. And the excellent Buckley and Wittrock add intriguing textures to their side characters.
This isn't a particularly daring film, as it approaches its subject without pushing the boundaries. But it's beautifully made, with a lovely sense of musicality as it follows the complex, contradictory Garland through some carefully scripted highs and lows. And the cast is strong enough to make the most of the spicy dialog, bringing strong angles to the rather difficult relationships. But of course the only moments in which the film is genuinely moving is when Zellweger is singing one of those devastating songs.
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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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