[#2020oscardeathrace] Judy (2019)

Director: Rupert Goold

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon

Screenplay: Tom Edge

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking.

Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress [Renee Zellweger] [PENDING]

Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [PENDING]

 

I didn’t know much about Judy Garland outside of The Wizard of Oz, so I was very interested in a biopic about the actress and singer, and I was all the more excited to see Renee Zellweger (Chicago, TV’s What/If) in the lead role. Now, with all the awards talk for Zellweger, I think it’s the right time to discuss this film from director Rupert Goold (True Story, King Charles III).

Judy tells the story of Judy Garland (Zellweger) in 1968 as she performs a series of concerts in London. Judy is still struggling with memories of the past, her time working on The Wizard of Oz, her life being controlled and dictated for her. The pain of her past has led to a reliance on prescription pills and alcohol, and she searches to find a way to get a better financial situation for her and her kids.

Without the performance of Renee Zellweger, I don’t know that Judy, as a film, would work. It’s a perfectly fine narrative, and I especially love the flashbacks to her youth. The actress who plays younger Judy, Darci Shaw, is amazing. I think the rest of the principal cast is fine, but there are times when the pacing doesn’t work.

As I mentioned, the rest of the principal cast does quite well, but make no mistake, Renee Zellweger owns this film with her exemplary performance as Judy Garland. It’s been a while since we’ve seen great Zellweger, and this is probably the best performance of her her entire career. It’s impossible not to be absolutely blown away by her acting and singing in the movie. I can’t see any way that she doesn’t walk away with this Best Actress Oscar.

I think the biggest fault of the film’s marketing campaign is that it was sold as a fairly happy-looking movie, but the finished product is not happy at all. I would say the depressing-to-joyful ratio is 90/10. Those happy moments take some time, and they are isolated, but the wait for them was worth it. I particularly like the sequence where she meets a couple after her show and asks them for dinner. It’s a wonderful sequence and perhaps my favorite in the whole film.

Judy is a solid film with a career-best performance from Zellweger, and it’s the best lead performance from an actress of the entire year. The musical set pieces are wonderful and the cast is filled with solid work from just about everyone. It’s not an easy film to watch, and it definitely isn’t filled with happiness, but then again, it’s exactly the film that would have encompassed the tone of Garland’s final years. Her life was troubled, and it wasn’t filled with only happy moments. All the same, I was so blown away by the lead performance and I cannot recommend this character study enough.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2018oscardeathrace] Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigot-Smith, Paul Higgins

Screenplay: Lee Hall

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]

 

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Florence Foster Jenkins) seems to surprise me with his films. He has regularly directed films that, on the surface, seem very boring, but when I see them, I’m often shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed them. Victoria & Abdul is another such film that seemed rather boring from what I’ve seen. But did the finished film actually work?

Victoria & Abdul is the story of a friendship between an aging Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal, Murder on the Orient Express) and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, Furious 7, Fukrey Returns). This friendship is resented by son Bertie (Eddie Izzard, Ocean’s Thirteen, The LEGO Batman Movie) and others in England, who devise several plots to get rid of Abdul and send him back to India.

Frears’s new film suffers from the same issue that some of his previous films have: their pacing. Victoria & Abdul should’ve been tightened down by cutting around 20 minutes from the film. There is a sizable chunk in the middle that doesn’t develop either character and also doesn’t advance the narrative.

What saves the film is the central relationship between Queen Victoria & Abdul Karim. It is the scenes with these two that are so spectacularly well-acted that it makes the entire viewing experience all the more enjoyable. Dench and Fazal put in some of the best performances of 2017, hands down, and their chemistry is terrific.

On the other side of that coin, I didn’t find the supporting “antagonists” of the film to be very well-written. I didn’t really understand their motives outside of them just being mad or jealous. It just didn’t work for me and I didn’t find them interesting or compelling enough to support the narrative’s driving force.

Victoria & Abdul showcases its two leads and their central relationship, and while the “villains” were less than stellar and Frears still hasn’t solved his pacing issues, Dench and Fazal have so much infectious chemistry that it still makes the film worth it. The technical merits of the film are finely-tuned here and the story is a very enjoyable character piece. Check this one out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stephen Frears’s Philomena, click here.

 

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