Judy’s tour of London starts rocky and gets worse as she continues to be her own worst enemy. She’s managed at this point to barely hold everything together including her personal demons along with her responsibility to fans and the theater—who sponsored her trip. Then there’s the surprise arrival of Mickey Deans, who may or may not be taking advantage of Judy’s last fleeting moments of success and fame. In the end, we’re left heartbroken with Judy and treated to a glimpse of the final performance of this famous tragic figure.
There’s really only one reason to see Judy, and its obviously Renee Zellweger’s portrayal of Judy Garland. At the risk of being hyperbolic, Zellweger performs a masterclass on characterization in cinema. The clichés apply. She absolutely loses herself in the role. You have to remind yourself constantly, this is Renee Zellweger. Her incredibly nuanced physical portrayal is awe-inspiring from her labored walk to even the small shaky movements of her hands.
“At the risk of being hyperbolic, Zellweger performs a masterclass on characterization…”
Even more impressive is that while Zellweger is impersonating Judy Garland, the film wisely falls short of trying to go for a perfect recreation of Garland. As much as this is Judy’s life on screen, this is equally as much Zellweger’s performance to admire. Zellweger’s singing is simply fantastic in the film, but no one can sing like the real Judy and Zellweger’s imperfect performances brings some authenticity to how Garland may have sounded in 1968.
Director Goold also refuses to allow Judy to become pretentious by making you wait for Zellweger to sing. The first time you hear her as Judy is well into the second act with her first show in London. Renée never appears to go over-the-top with a grounded performance of this larger-than-life character. In the end, Judy is just as much a love letter to Garland as it is the tragic last performance of a legend.
If there was ever a film that screamed Best Actress Oscar-bait, it’s Judy. But damn, Renée Zellweger is absolutely fantastic in this role, and absolutely deserves Best Actress honors. Yes, I know the year’s not over yet, but the bar is set high.