PG-13 for a lot of boozing, drugs, and language. It's got some stuff because it's a biopic about a famous alcoholic. It also shows how child stars are often tortured as kids. If you are looking for adults being terrible people, Judy contains a lot of it. It also has some interesting commentary on the solemnity of marriage. I mean, I don't think it takes a hard stance, but marriage is just something that you do in Judy. Really, we're looking at standard biopic fare. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Rupert Goold
You know what? I knew what I was getting into. From the moment that I saw the trailer, I knew that Renee Zellweger was shooting for the safe Oscar nom. I could tell you beat-by-beat how this movie was going to go and I don't even know much about the life of Judy Garland. I've been griping about the tragic celeb biopic for years and Judy is another one on the pile. This all leads me to think that this steady stream of tragic biopics about celebrities is aimed at a target audience of people who happen to really admire that celebrity. Judy Garland is a cultural icon for so many people. She is untouchable. For people who absolutely adore Judy Garland, Judy probably holds a lot of weight. For the rest of us, Judy is as color-by-numbers as it gets.
I don't know Judy Garland outside of her roles. I knew that she was a tortured soul. I knew that she indulged in vices, so much so that she could be considered an addict among addicts. I knew that she overdosed at a young age. I also knew that Liza Minnelli was her kid, but that barely plays into the movie. I can't tell you if Zellweger is doing an amazing impersonation of Judy Garland or not. I get the vibe that she probably did her homework. It ultimately doesn't matter because Zellweger believes in what she is doing. Even if the real Judy Garland spoke in a cockney accent (she didn't), it wouldn't matter because the bulk of the film is about commitment to the role. Is she singing herself? Probably. My wife mentioned that Zellweger was in Chicago and I instantly flashed-back the halcyon / embarrassing days of when I used to listen to Broadway musicals on the reg. Yeah, she's probably singing. There's a lot that's impressive about the performance. If Zellweger gets the Academy Award for this movie, that'd be fine. It would be fine, despite the fact that Judy isn't that great of a movie. Again, this is a vehicle for Renee Zellweger to get an Academy Award and it just screams it throughout. But again, I also said that about Joker and people hate me for that takeaway.
The thing is that we've seen this movie so many times. We know that Judy Garland is swallowed up by her demons. When she made A Star is Born, it was an act of hypocrisy. There are sections of A Star is Born where the narrator has to come in and explain entire sections of plot because they couldn't get Judy Garland out of her trailer. I know. I'm Catholic and I'm a human being. I should be advocating for Judy Garland's mental health and the respect that any human being has a right to. I'm aware of that. I'm hating me too. But a large part of me is just begging for Judy Garland to get out of the spotlight.
The film presents Judy Garland's problems as a binary thing. The movie deftly jumps between the events of Judy during her Wizard of Oz years and all of the terrible stuff that happened to her. This is the stuff that I'm sympathetic to. As a film, its greatest contribution to cinema is its commentary on the #metoo movement, hearkening back to the Golden Age of Cinema. That stuff is powerful. She's a kid who wants to be famous, but she's also a kid who wants a milkshake and not to be ogled by the head of MGM. That stuff is rough. But then I realized, fame is causing all of her misery. Yeah, she didn't have a normal childhood. But lots of child actors, who genuinely deserve our sympathy, redefine themselves outside of the constraints of their celebrity personas. The movie never once presents the option that maybe Judy Garland just do something else.
Judy starts from a time where the world is just sick of Judy Garland's crap. She doesn't show up for performances. She's often confrontational and wasted out of her face. She's borderline abusive, but she's still the protagonist of the piece. The majority of the film banks on the idea that despite her irresponsible behavior, we are still rooting for her to pull it all together. The directors beg the people to give her another chance, despite the fact that Judy is just this toxic personality in a world where people are all playing the game. Her band in the movie are so great. They are terrified that she will leave, but the film kind of portrays them as on her side. Their entire livelihoods are based on whether or not Judy Garland can be sober enough and empathetic enough to show up on stage that night. Why would they like her? Part of it is the starstruck natures that she's constantly surrounded by, but is that something that me as a member of the audience should be applauding?
One of the recurring motifs is Judy's obsession with her children. It's there, not as a real goal, but as a way to sympathize with someone who is ultimately unsympathetic. It's something biological about us, understanding that a mother wants to be with her children. But Judy Garland, despite her outward love for her children, is a terrible mother because it isn't about the children's needs, but about her own vanity. Yeah, the movie eventually confirms that idea, but it's still this heartbreaking moment when she gives up her children. It's because it's kind of a manipulative scene. And that's what I'm talking about when a film presents these binary choices that the film never decides to address. Judy could easily be a decent mother if she took ANY other job besides performing. If she skimped and saved a little, she would be fine. As good as a mother as Judy claims to be, she doesn't really sacrifice. She goes to London, which she considers sacrifice, but it is really the tip of the iceberg of what real parents go through. Real parents are in a constant state of sacrifice. This grand gesture is a good start, but it isn't what life is really like.
A lot of my boredom with this movie is that I've seen it before. I've been told that these are tragic lives. They are. But people have it way worse than these celebrities and I don't know what the point of glorifying these moments as tragedy really does. There are so many people who have drug addictions and are alcoholics that are deserving of love. Judy Garland was an amazing performer. She had a tragic childhood. But also, Judy Garland didn't have to continue being a singer. If the singing was killing her and she was getting these panic attacks about going on stage, just do anything else. Teach. Mentor. Yeah, she might have sucked at those things too, but introverts are also completely capable of leading full lives. The big reveal moment at the end wasn't a moment that showed that Judy Garland had for one moment beaten the system. Instead, she got the attention that she was craving. That was her drug and the audience just gave her another hit. Yeah, she's great to those two guys. But she really doesn't do it for them. She is satisfying the need to be loved in a world where she wasn't loved. She treated marriage as a dodge and a game, but never really did anything slowly. The metaphor of the drug works because everything she wanted to do was quick. If she slowly built up relationships and really honed her craft, we could have had something else.
But she didn't. It's a sad story that makes me want to shake it into a mental health program. All these people claimed that they loved her, but they wanted her to stay the same. There's almost a satisfaction that comes when Judy completely melts down. Her handlers act horrified, but they're also shocked that the bear mauled someone. I don't say that Judy Garland isn't deserving of our sympathy. I just need something new to happen in these movies and Judy isn't the movie to offer that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.