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Movie Review: 'Judy'

David Hindley / LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

When the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon came out, there were complaints it didn’t let us see Kaufman as a real person. I didn’t totally agree, but I still defended the approach, because us not knowing the “real” Kaufman was entirely consistent with who the man was.

This approach does not work for Judy Garland. 

I don’t think it was the intention of the makers of Judy for us not to see her as a real, layered person, but this is the result. Judy takes place in the last few months before Garland died at the age of 47 after 30 years of drug and alcohol abuse. She’s playing some shows in London because they still love her there and she’s broke and losing her children. The shows are alternately disastrous or brilliant, depending on her emotional and chemical state on any particular night.

I don’t actually know that much about Garland’s life, but even with that, Judy taught me almost nothing. What we get is a too-familiar, surface-level, final-days-of-a-dying-star movie. Garland did have a sad life, and she was victimized many times in many ways, but she, herself, explicitly said she didn’t want to be seen as a victim, and this movie does little to keep from reducing her to exactly that. She’s mostly the result of what has been done to her, and this strips her of her humanity, even though I think the filmmakers felt they were doing the opposite. Renee Zellweger certainly gets up for the Oscar-baity role, but she’s limited by what they don’t let Garland be. And by the time we get to a certain musical number, it feels like such a massive pander that it’s almost offensive.

I just don’t know who this movie is for. You won’t learn much. It doesn’t resonate emotionally. And real Garland fans are probably better off just watching old clips of the woman who is rightfully seen as one of the 20th century’s transcendent entertainers, and who deserves far, far better than what she’s given in Judy.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.