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First of all, I think Renee Zellweger is a genius. Second, I think “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the greatest movies of all time. Those are my biases, right up front. So why wouldn’t I want to see “Judy?” Why wouldn’t I ask my wife out on a date? Why, indeed.
It knocked my socks off. Enjoyment of a movie, or any art form, is a personal thing, of course. There needs to be a hook, something to grab hold of you, make it relate to you individually.
On the surface, it would seem that Judy Garland and I have very little in common. I seriously doubt if she ever set any chokers, cut any trees, or dumped garbage cans for a living. I can absolutely guarantee I have never held any audiences spell-bound with my singing. What could a rough ‘ol country boy like myself have in common with a glamorous Hollywood star?
This is where the acting genius of Zellweger comes in. She manages to wear a long-dead singer’s heart on her sleeve. Not so easy. Her eerily-nuanced movement and expressions manage to bring out the insecurity and angst of Garland – and others who suffer from drugs and alcohol. Its an addiction and a vicious cycle; the terrible feeling of inadequacy and guilt that clutches your heart when you have something important to do, but you are too funk to drunktion. The utter and incomprehensible demoralization ripping at your guts when the lovely, lovely alcohol stops working and the speed just makes you feel bad, when you cannot find the zone, and the buzz won’t buzz. When the right dose is impossible to find, and sweet oblivion eludes you, that is when the desperation sets in. The last thing you need is another drink or pill, so you take one just to make things a little better, which never works. Its not a logical process.
For an hour or two, Zellweger gave me back that wonderful feeling of discomfort, desperation and anxiety (gee, thanks, right?) There can be more to the story, like freedom, joy and gratitude, but Garland never found it. She died of the disease, like so many others. Some of them were famous, like Garland and Elvis and Whitney Houston, but many more have suffered and died in obscurity. A couple of friends of mine killed themselves, blew their brains out. I am certain it was the alcohol. Others died in car wrecks, drunk. This demon can be beaten, but its hard, really hard. Judy Garland didn’t make it.
Zellweger sold all that, in the character of Judy Garland. That is her genius.
Of course, no actor can pull this off alone. The critical element is the synergy of the acting, the symbiotic interplay between actors that creates the magic. Good actors feed off each other. A great actress pulls everyone up. When the magic works, we are all transported over the rainbow. I know this movie has gotten mixed reviews, but not from me. I’m all in.
Zellweger is uncanny as Judy, and the rest of the cast, mostly, give great performances. Richard Corderey as Louis B. Mayer is truly (gulp!) imposing. Andy Nyman, as Dan, one of her new-found homosexual friends in London, is endearing. When he stands up in the wonderful ending piece (sorry, trying not to give too much away), he stands on the razor’s edge. This scene could have flopped terribly, but it is brilliant.
The movie shows us the terrible price Garland paid for stardom, the pressure and manipulation of a teenage girl; relentless work schedules and a mother giving drugs to her daughter to keep her thin and drive her to the edge of endurance and the peak of performance.
The contrast is ironic between the ugliness of the movie business and the beauty of the product. Whatever may have been the human follies, foibles and abuses associated with the making of The Wizard of Oz,” it remains one of the great cinematic achievements of all time, and this movie shows us that, along with the darkness. Eighty years later, and fifty years after Garland’s death, we can still celebrate the glory of that achievement. Here is a link to the original “Over the Rainbow.”
Ars longa, vita brevis