In recent years, there have been a slate of innocuous sunset biopics, retelling the stories of famous performers. From Annette Bening’s performance as an aging Gloria Grahame in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool to the bittersweet Stan and Ollie last December, we’ve seen a fair share of directors attempting to reshape these fading stars’ later years for the big screen. Now, Rupert Goold (True Story, The Hollow Crown) has cast Renée Zellweger as the iconic Judy Garland, battling with the inevitable reality that her stardom is drawing to a close.
Set in London in the winter of 1968, the story sets us 30 years after The Wizard of Oz. The trailer has plenty of bombastic musical numbers to keep us entertained — from the opening Trolley Song (a Meet Me in St Louis classic) to overt references to a yellow brick road and a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. But there’s also a more somber undertone as we see a middle-aged Judy locked in a custody battle for her children and attempting to reconcile an onset of depression while the stardom of her youth slips away.
While the film balances these conflicting strands, it’s certainly visually arresting. The influence of Douglas Sirks’ melodrama are writ large through the bold color palette. It’s also got plenty of fast-paced editing to keep viewers on their toes. Her performance of “Come Rain or Shine” packs the kind of punch Zellweger is known for, while sequences with her meeting old acquaintances show her emotional range and promise a whirlwind romance with Judy’s fifth husband.
Zellweger is no stranger to musical theatre. After her breakout role in Bridget Jones, her casting as frontwoman Roxie Hart in Chicago catapulted her onto the musical theatre stage. Since then, she’s starred in a stage adaptation of The Hustler (2012), her Broadway debut. This certainly puts her in good stead to lead as one of cinema’s most iconic musical performers and it’s entertaining to see echoes of Roxie Hart’s musical numbers in her performances. However, her last appearance was some years ago, and despite talk of a directorial project, Zellweger seems to have flown under the radar in recent years — Bridget Jones’ Baby only vaguely making an imprint back in 2016 — so it’s encouraging to see her again.
While Garland’s fate is well known, I’m looking forward to seeing how the filmmakers tackle the fallout of a woman who was introduced to fame so early on in life. Hollywood has a cruel tendency to boot out even the most talented performers after a certain time, so it seems that the narrative is challenging the value-system that capitalizes on youth but sadly seems to let talent diminish.
Judy looks to be a thoughtful and endearing look at the well-loved vaudevillian and actress. Also set to star in the feature are Jessie Buckley, who also stars as country singer Rose-Lynn in Wild Rose, along with a host of other names including Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell and Bella Ramsey. Judy is set for a theatrical release on September 27, 2019.