If you've ever heard anyone talk about Judy Garland, usually it's about her role as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" (the film that would ultimately make her a superstar) and her long and turbulent battle with addiction. Usually, they'll mention how her life was marred by tragedy, lost love, and a career in decline by the end of her life. These are the subjects in which the recent biopic "Judy" discusses.
I believe that a film on Judy Garland's life is long overdue. She is one of the most talented entertainers of all time, a triple threat who captured audience's attention ever since was a little girl by the name of Frances Ethel Gumm. "Judy" takes place in 1969 during her stint at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London, England. While I found the film to be an accurate representation of Garland in the last year of her life, I did (ultimately) have some problems with it as a Judy Garland fan.
**There will be some spoilers ahead so please skip ahead if you plan on seeing the film.**
The film opens in the middle of production for "The Wizard of Oz," presenting to the audience a very young Judy in conversation with Louie B. Mayer, head of MGM at the time. From the get-go, Mayer reminds Judy that she isn't the most beautiful girl but she does, indeed, have a natural talent. We meet up again with Judy at 47, a now established star in the canon of Hollywood's elite. However, she has fallen from grace. We learn that she has no money nor a place to rest her head. She ultimately decides to take a chance at the urging of her manager and perform a six-week residency at Talk of the Town nightclub. Which, as we assume, is a difficult and strenuous experience for Judy, her team, and the audience.
Throughout the length of the film, it seems to be one tragedy after another. They also sprinkled in flashbacks to Judy's time at MGM and the kind of abuse she suffered as a young and impressionable starlet.
The film ends on a high note with Judy giving a final knock-out performance as well as the audience singing a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the final shot a close-up of Judy, urging the audience to remember who she is. In the epilogue, it states that Judy died at the age of 47 in a London flat, the victim of an accidental barbiturate overdose.
After the seeing the film, I began to process it, taking in everything I had seen in the film. Ultimately, though it was an excellently done film and Rene Zellweger played an excellent Garland, the film felt like it was more of a funeral dirge for Garland rather than a celebration of her life. What most people don't know about Garland was that she was both an optimist and had an acidic sense of humor. Yes, she had a tragic life, but the type of person she was was far from tragic. She had a sort of magic that most people don't have, a unique way of seeing the world. Her daughter, Liza Minnelli, often tells stories of her mother's love and support of her choice of pursuing a career in show business. So, when I saw a film of Garland's life, I was expecting it to touch on the many triumphs of Judy's life rather than focus solely on the tragedy of it.
I did, however, enjoy one of the invented moments for the film. After a show, Judy meets a gay couple who welcome her into their home and cook her dinner. This moment, I believe, was supposed to showcase Judy's popularity and reverence within the gay community. Her tragic life, as well as her treatment as an outcast in Hollywood, had gay men flock to her side. It's also rumored that her death actually was the catalyst for the Stonewall riots in New York.
Despite my feelings about the film, I will say this about it: the film perfectly captured who Judy Garland was; a star who touched people's lives in such an impactful way. She loved her audience, she loved performing, and the audience loved her in return. She was able to make even the sourest and heavy hearts alight with music. Her iconic status is ironclad; there will never ever be another Judy Garland. She serves as the inspiration for so many other artists and songstresses that it's hard to imagine a world without her.
The rainbow may have ended for Judy, but her legend will live on forever.