One night, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Liza Minnelli appeared during the curtain call of The Life to support her dear friend Cy Coleman. After a few songs with Cy and crooning the opening number Use What You Got with Sam Harris, something extraordinarily historical occurred. Minnelli shared with the audience her promise to never sing her mother’s songs on stage…until now. In that moment, Liza broke into a heartbreaking rendition of You Made Me Love You, which was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. It’s a magical moment that could only happen on a Broadway stage. How do I know? I was there, in the wings, with my heart swelling from the same emotion and adulation I feel every single solitary time I hear ‘Over The Rainbow.’ Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland are two of my all time favorite vocalists and entertainers who have made millions of adoring fans fall in love them over the decades.
Needless to say, all the title project was the word JUDY and I knew the film would be on my hit list for 2019. Does it hold up to the hype? Is Renee Zellweger as mind-blowing as everyone says she is?
In the title role, Renée Zellweger is indeed giving the performance of a lifetime with this heart-rending adaptation of Peter Quilter’s stage play End of the Rainbow presenting an intimate portrait of the great Judy Garland during the final year of her life.
As JUDY begins, the child star of The Wizard of Oz and ingenue of A Star is Born is now middle-aged, homeless, broke, embroiled in a custody battle with Sid Luft, while navigating through a whirlwind marriage to an opportunistic husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) and all but blacklisted in Hollywood. It is then an attempt is made to regain some control over her career by accepting a residency at a London theatre.
Things begin to go awry rapidly and her reputation begins to become reality as she refuses to rehearse. Crippled by anxiety, insomnia, and alcoholism the legend can barely make it to the stage opening night. Once that spotlight hits before an eager audience, microphone in hand and a top notch band ready to hit a high note, she relaxes and remembers that the stage is indeed her magical home.
Directed by Rupert Goold, JUDY tracks those rollercoaster months in England while performing at the famous Talk of the Town, where she develops a lovely relationship with a gay couple who adores her. Those scenes along with the final ten minutes of the film shattered my heart in pieces showing the more vulnerable and insecure sides of a woman who show business literally chewed up and spit out.
Renee Zellweger gives such a nuanced, astounding performance that during several moments one would swear you were watching the real thing. There were a few times when Zellweger was a little pitchy and I’m not sure if that was a choice or if it was part of her characterization for Garland during a time where her vocal prowess could be sketchy at times. Whatever the case, fans of the legend will fall in love with her all over again and this is without a doubt a major vehicle for the film’s star.
Produced by Roadside Attractions and BBC Films, JUDY hits theaters on September 27th.