There are many, many films I never get around to watching, such is my penchant for live theatre. I haven’t yet figured out a way to say this without sounding like a pompous ass, so please accept my apologies, but these days I receive more invitations to theatre shows than I am able to physically attend. Being unused to evenings off, whenever I get one it’s usually because it’s the Christmas / New Year holiday season – or perhaps the Easter weekend – but if it isn’t, my tendency is to fill it with something or other, be it a repeat visit to a long-running show I very much enjoy, or a seat-filling opportunity. The latter one I can’t say too much about, suffice to say there are numerous seat-filler clubs out there, and if you’re happy to attend radio and/or television recordings, these are usually free of charge.
I still retain a cinema membership at Curzon, though the long-term future of the Wimbledon branch (the one nearest to me) remains uncertain as the cinema is now the only part of an otherwise empty building that once housed the local HMV record store. Anyway, as the shelf life of movies at the cinema tends to be fairly short, I had imagined Judy had been and gone, but as it was still on the listings on the evening I had available, I decided I’d take the plunge. Better late than never, though I had one or two responses saying ‘never’ was the better option – some people simply prefer watching movies actually starring Judy Garland (1922-1969) rather than ones about her.
It’s not strictly in chronological order, but flitting between decades is hardly problematic, not least because there’s Judy (Renée Zellweger) and there’s Young Judy (Darci Shaw). Young Judy is unsure of herself, and the stern attitude of Louis B Mayer (1884-1957) (Richard Cordery) didn’t help. Mayer’s conduct towards Garland and other women in his employment at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was deplorable, at least by modern standards – those who didn’t do precisely what he wanted were threatened with all sorts of repercussions and consequences. Older Judy, by contrast, is the sort of person that people like the theatre producer Bernard Delfont (1909-1994) (Michael Gambon) and Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley), the personal assistant assigned to Garland (presumably by Delfont) were being perhaps overly kind to.
That Garland was in England at all was not out of choice: her work in the United States had all but dried up. Fair enough, but the decision to leave for London meant leaving her young children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) in the care of ex-husband Sidney Luft (1915-2005) (Rufus Sewell). The film takes its time in portraying her decision-making process and the care taken to soften the blow as much as possible as she breaks the news to her children. In some ways this is even more difficult viewing than watching her obstinacy towards others fuelled by addiction.
As the film makes clear, there were more photogenic women than Garland around at the time, but few (if anybody) could match her singing voice. But this was somebody clearly damaged beyond repair by exploitative movie executives and producers, who (as portrayed in this movie) even starved Garland, insisting that she took pills in place of eating meals. What rapport Garland was able to muster during her ‘Talk of the Town’ concerts in London demonstrated some excellent comic timing. I suppose these days audience members would have simply got up and left if things weren’t going so well. Back then, they stayed but they heckled a poor performance that started late – in Garland’s case it is as though they resented the idea that Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz dared to grow up.
Dan (Andy Nyman) and Stan (Daniel Cerqueira) are the sort of Garland obsessives that wait at stage door in the rain long after everyone else had left, hoping that Garland would still yet make an appearance. Their subplot is pleasing to see but was ultimately superfluous, resulting in underlining a perceived stereotype of Garland’s fanbase being predominantly comprised of gay men rather than driving the film’s narrative forward. There’s a feelgood ending which makes for good musical theatre, but this is a motion picture, and on-screen text merely telling the audience that Garland passed away months after the events just portrayed seems too abrupt an ending. Judy Garland surely deserves better.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.