MOVIE REVIEW: Renée Zellweger catches a falling star
Four and a half stars
Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
Running time: 118 minutes
Verdict: A star is reborn!
There are times during this heart-wrenching biopic about late-career Judy Garland when Renée Zellweger disappears so completely into her character that the effect is almost disturbing.
The elfin haircut, the smudged red lipstick and the fabulously flamboyant '60s outfits do their bit - discreetly supported by a set of prosthetic teeth.
But while the Bridget Jones star nails the diminutive entertainer's look and mannerisms, it's her gutsy "live" stage shows that elevate Judy to a whole other level.
Zellweger sings Garland classics such as For Once In My Life and Come Rain Or Come Shine with such conviction, the audience is utterly in her thrall. It's an extraordinary vocal achievement.
But the tension the actor generates between Garland's charisma as a performer and her aching need and vulnerability as a person is what ultimately has us hanging on her every phrase.
Even when the audience is in the palm of Garland's hand, those enormous brown eyes convey an emptiness from which there is no coming back.
Heightening the drama still further is the state of the singer's vocal chords, which are so shot, she's never entirely sure what will come out.
And then, of course, there's the alcohol and substance abuse.
While Judy is much more than a mere trainwreck story, the film is set just six months before Garland's death from an accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of 47.
Her penultimate show at London's Talk Of the Town nightclub, where the addled, antagonistic performer is booed off stage, is almost unbearable to watch.
Director Rupert Goold's adaptation of Peter Quilter's stage play End Of The Rainbow isn't flawless.
Although MGM's treatment of Garland as a child actor was unforgivable, the stylised Wizard Of Oz flashbacks portray studio head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) and the young star's minder as pantomime villains.
This provides a detachment from their behaviour that feels at odds with the raw intimacy of the scenes in her London hotel room.
Judy's mawkish ending also sells Zellweger short.
But with the help of a mesmerising central performance, Goold gets the important bits right.
There's a tender sequence involving a gay couple who wait each night for Garland outside the stage door. After one show, she accompanies these devoted fans back to their apartment on a whim.
In a seamless meld of screenwriting, direction and performance, the filmmakers capture Garland's loneliness and the two men's sadness, translating her status as a gay icon into something meaningful.
And Zellweger has some terrific lines, which she delivers with wit and panache.
"I just want what everybody wants. I just seem to have a harder time getting it," Garland tells a TV interviewer at one point.
And the Oscar goes to ….
There hasn't been a female performance to touch it this year.