Brow Beat

Renée Zellweger’sJudy Looks Like the Feel-Bad Biopic We Truly Deserve

Roadside Attractions has released the theatrical trailer for Judy, the next big contribution to the seemingly endless parade of musical biopics. In these grim times, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the glammy, pepped-up jukebox-style musical, whose familiar narrative structures, themes, and tuneful interludes serve as little life rafts atop the dark waters of the turbulent present. If audiences found themselves leaving theaters with a spring in their step following the redemptive bildungsroman of Bohemian Rhapsody and the razzle-dazzle Rocketman, Judy promises to leave scuffing their feet on the sidewalk. The film, adapted from Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow and directed by Rupert Goold, stars Renée Zellweger as a late-stage Judy Garland living out her final days on Earth, middle-aged, drug-addled, and agonized as she embarks on a series of chaotic performances in London shortly before succumbing to an accidental overdose. Finally, a music biopic that truly captures the spirit of 2019.

Judging from the trailer, Judy plays heavily on the juxtaposition between old Hollywood show-biz and the persistent indignity and humiliation particular to the tragic Garland. However dark the film gets will depend on how much it wants to dwell in reality. In a review of Garland’s final performance, the London Observer described the singer as an “almost haggard” presence, “the broken remnant of a gaudy age of show-biz” who would shout morose things like, “I’d like to hate myself, but I can’t,” over audiences that heckled and interrupted her—and, according to biographer Anne Edwards, even emptied the contents of ashtrays onto her as she struggled her way through the music. Zellweger’s raspy voice and belabored movements are a good sign that the actress means to channel an un-glossed version of the icon, capturing the Judy Garland described in 1969 as “pathetic and lonely and dignified,” performing even as “the audience carries on burping and gossiping.” If recent biopics seem overtly invested in varnishing the character and reputation of their subjects, Judy seems to turn towards the flaws, shortcomings, and ultimate failure of its protagonist.

The film also stars Finn Wittrock as Micky Deans, Garland’s fifth husband, as well as Bella Ramsey and Gemma-Leah Devereux as Garland daughters Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli, respectively. The real Liza Minnelli has raised concerns over film, taking to social media to dispel a report that she had “bonded” with Zellweger during its production. “I have never met nor spoken to Renee Zellweger… I don’t know how these stories get started, but I do not approve nor sanction the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way.” We’ll have to wait until fall to decide whether this biopic leaves audiences over the rainbow or, in true 2019 fashion, somewhere well beneath it.