October 27, 2019 – Renée Zellweger gives a knockout performance as a beleaguered Judy Garland in the last months of her life in this dramatic and affecting musical biopic. Not only does Zellweger (the “Bridget Jones” movies) give a great dramatic performance, but she also sings Garland's songs with dramatic flair.
This movie, based on the biographical stage play, “End of the Rainbow,” follows Garland on an extended tour of shows in England, peppered with flashbacks to her early days as a child actor in Hollywood. As a child, Garland is bullied by the imposing movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (played by Richard Cordery of “Madam Bovary”). She is also plied with pills by the studio, which kept her on a strict diet and controlled all aspects of her life.
Years later, we find Garland and her children performing on stage for token money before the 1969 British tour. The pill-popping, alcoholic smoker is deep in debt and homeless. She is given the choice of giving up custody of her children on going on tour in England to raise money to cover her debts. She goes on tour, even though she is no shape for it.
Garland is portrayed as a nervous wreck who cannot sleep and doesn't feel like performing, but who can go on stage with no rehearsal and rock the audience with one outstanding performance after another. All she needs is love, and she seems to get better when she finds it and impulsively marries Mickey Deans (played by Finn Witrock of “Unbroken”). But that marriage quickly goes bad. In one scene, a doctor asks Garland what she takes for depression, and she replies “Four husbands, but it didn't work.”
One of the movie's most touching scenes comes when Garland impulsively agrees to visit two of her fans waiting at the backstage door, Dan and Ben (played by Andy Nyman and Phil Dunster, respectively) in their London apartment, and ends up cooking for them and singing to them after a show. Dan and Ben also show up in a tear-jerking scene at the end of the movie when Garland breaks down on stage singing “Over the Rainbow.”
This movie depicts the Golden Age of Hollywood in a way quite different than how it is often depicted as a “tinsel town” fantasy land. It shows a ruthless side of Hollywood that chews up people like Garland and spits them out when they are no longer useful. It shows how child actors were abused by Hollywood back in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Conditions for child actors are better now, but some still end up ruined at an early age.
Garland is portrayed as a woman with a big heart and even bigger problems. She desperately wants to be a good mother, but is seemingly unable to care for her children. A woman of amazing talent, she is burning out at an early age. She is like a sky rocket that bursts into a spectacular fireworks display, but burns out just as quickly.
Zellweger gives an amazing performance and it is a sure bet she will be remembered for it during the upcoming awards season. Don't forget Gabriel Yared and the music department for their role in this film, as well as director Rupert Goold and the entire cast. This is a memorable, emotional musical biopic. It rates a B.
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