Judy Garland died in 1969 having just turned 47 the previous fortnight.
In four decades of performing she scaled phenomenal heights, attaining international stardom for her work on stage and screen, and was the recipient of awards for her acting and singing.
Eternally memorable for her portrayal of Dorothy in 1939’s Wizard of Oz, she will forever be associated with the tune “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, a fact put to staggering effect at the climax of Judy, a movie based on Garland’s life as told in the stage play “End of the Rainbow”.
The film is a harrowing portrait of loneliness, focusing on her London Concert tour, that took place 6 months before her death.
It’s in London that we meet two of her fans, lingering near the stage door, desperate for a glimpse of their idol. As Judy struggles with loneliness, she accepts an offer to go for a meal after a show with the pair.
Being England in the late 60s, not a lot is open and she ends up back at their flat, where they do their best to cook their esteemed guest an omelette. It’s a touching sequence that takes on particular significance at the end of the film in one of the greatest, most triumphant film endings I’ve ever seen.
As Judy tries to dig herself out of a financial and emotional hole, her stage show has some good nights and some very bad nights, when, on occasion, too drunk to perform, she is pelted with food by the hostile crowd.
The film raises the colossal question of who was there to take care of her, as she was thrust into the spotlight as a toddler.
The key characters in her life seem only to be present for any opportunity that her talent and fame may offer. From movie producer bullies, to hapless husbands chasing the next big score, Judy cuts a frighteningly solitary figure moving through life in a series of triumphs and disasters with virtually no emotional support.
A lifelong substance abuser, the film flashes back to different occasions where she was starved by the studio or belittled and threatened into submission.
The film certainly cements her status as a gay icon, and, as we reach the end of the journey with her she speaks the most poignant lines of the film addressing the audience on her last night in London.
“This next one isn’t a song about getting anywhere. It’s about walking towards somewhere that you’ve dreamed of. And maybe the walk is every day of your life. And the walking has to be enough. It’s about hope. And we all need that.”
What happens next is simultaneously crushing, and uplifting, and must go down as one of the greatest film endings of all time.
Judy has echoes of the spectacular rise and fall of entertainers like Michael Jackson, Michael Hutchence, and Amy Winehouse. Renee Zellweger gives a performance that is at times brilliant and at other times (at least for myself) enormously distracting with the affectations she imbues her portrayal of Garland with. Nonetheless it is a performance destined to give the former Miss Jones a solid gold shot to score her second Academy Award – and first for Best Actress.
“The Wizard of Oscar” – 3 & ½ Stars.