With the release of this and Joker this week, I think it’s fair to say that we are entering the early stages of “awards season”. Both had a lot of hype coming out of the tail end of the festival season and with the wide release it’s fair to say that the awards train has left the station.
Of course most of the hype surrounding this film, and Joker but will get to that later in the week, has been surrounding its leading performance, on this occasion given to us by one Renée Zellweger, but a film is not made by one performance, it is made by a multitude of facets working towards an end goal; one great performance can elevate a good film but can also expose a bad film, so what camp does this latest musical biopic land in?
Telling the tale of the later stages of the career of the great Judy Garland (Renèe Zellweger) we see her plight as she struggles to keep custody of her children are made substance abuse, lack of work and a tense relationship with her previous husband; we also see how the role of Dorothy shaped her future, and her view of Hollywood.
There is more than one way to view the classic Hollywood period, as we saw last month in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood you can idolise the past or, in this case, you can demonise it, and either way you can be justified.
I have to say this movie came as a pleasant surprise for me, I had heard whispers coming from the festivals earlier this month, but I didn’t expect the film to be as affecting as it was.
The acting is deservedly pointed out for most peoples praises, but what is lost amongst this is the skill and finesse which the film is presented as a whole. The musical numbers sparkle and pop off the screen with an elegance deserving its leading character; it really encapsulates the glamour of Judy Garland’s life, while also shining a light on its most dark and depressing moments.
Which brings me nicely onto the performance as a whole by Renèe Zellweger, she is a versatile performer, whether she is making us laugh as Bridget Jones or being a glamorous murderess in Chicago. She makes herself look worse for wear for playing Judy Garland, but it does wonders for her performance. She carries a mix of emotions from keeping up a facade of elegance in the public eye, to emotionally fighting for custody of the children, it really is a staggering and emotional performance from an actress we haven’t really seen much of of recently.
While the whole film is very well presented, it is as much a vehicle for a leading performance as Darkest Hour was for Gary Oldman, but with much better results, Judy would be an easy, entertaining, and emotional watch with any talented leading actress, it just so happened they made exactly the right choice for the film. It does mean that certain supporting characters are outshone in the film, and even perhaps a little under characterised, but they’re basking in the glow of an extraordinary performance from its leading lady, which helps to light up the film as a whole.
Zellweger is not the only one worthy of singling out for praise, however, as the cinematography of this film is extremely impressive. Its uses of extreme close-up is incredibly effective in the smaller moments, whilst the use of sweeping camera work in the musical numbers is reminiscent of musical films of the time. It helps enliven the genuine feel of the era it is trying to portray.
As much as the technical error filmmaking beyond cinematography and direction is beyond me, one of the things that really caught my attention, as small as it may seem, and as an insignificant, is the sound design. It makes the recordings of Zellweger singing Garland’s repertoire sound as though it is coming from an actual recording of the concert it is portraying; adding an accurate layer of crackles and fading as if recording with an old, 1960’s style microphone, it is these smaller things that really add up to a greater experience.
I have seen many film so far this year, even though we are running to October, and still having a crisis still to come, I will be very surprised if Judy doesn’t make my top 10 films at the end of the year. It is a film of wild juxtaposition, while showing us glitzy and lively musical numbers, with lines of dancing girls and live orchestra, it also portrays the harsh realities of old-time Hollywood as a young Garland is pressured and pushed to ruin by studio executives wanting perfection when it is impossible.
Overall though, I heartily recommend Judy is a must watch for all, not only for fans of Judy Garland in particular, but film fans as a whole to see just how backwards life is when you look behind the camera.