‘Judy’ review: Renee Zellweger's portrayal of Garland is nothing short of breathtaking

Thirty years after rising to fame for playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the petite diva is a single mother struggling to make a living in the US

Nicola Chan |

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Thirty years after rising to fame for playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) is a single mother past her prime, and struggling to make a living in the US.

Her abusive and manipulative studio boss Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) warns the ordinary-looking woman that the only thing that is special about her is her voice, and reminds her that he has the power to make or break her. 

But when Judy relocates to Britain for a stage show, she proves to herself – and the world – that she still has what it takes.

As glamorous as her life might seem, Judy is constantly haunted by flashbacks of her childhood, while her reliance on drugs and her depressive symptoms are due to drag her down.

Very few actresses could have brought this moody, mentally wounded, complex character to life like Zellweger, who won this year’s Best Actress Golden Globe for her efforts. Not only is she capable of reviving Garland’s musical classics, she portrays Judy’s trauma, deteriorating health and bipolar traits not only in her speech but in every nuance of her body language. 

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One moment, she is the petite, witty diva who captivates the room with her breathtaking, emotional performance and beaming charisma; the next, a feisty queen who disappoints her fans with her tardiness and fluctuating emotions. Offstage, Judy is a most difficult and imperious celebrity to deal with, but also a most gentle, selfless mother.

Supported by strong cast, the visually and audibly stunning biopic is evenly paced and easy to follow. Well constructed with scenes that echo with one another, it provides glimpses to Garland’s early struggles, late years, as well as her special relationships with fans and work partners.  

The meticulous portrayal of Garland’s complex personality is what makes Judy truly beautiful. Ending with a moving speech, Zellweger shows how the stage is what imprisons Judy, but also a home where she finds comfort and freedom in her often painful life.