Verdict: A touching biopic elevated by Renée Zellweger’s portrayal of an American icon.

Judy Garland was one of Hollywood’s most renowned performers with a career spanning more than four decades. With a troubled childhood as a child actor that followed her through her adult life, hers is a hard story to tell. Judy seems to have got it right under Rupert Goold‘s direction with an adapted screenplay by Tom Edge based on Peter Quilter‘s play End of the Rainbow.

What’s Judy About:

Judy (Renée Zellweger) is struggling financially in her forties. Her popularity has faded in the US and she decides to go to London to perform so she can have enough money to live with her children who currently stay with her second husband, Sidney (Rufus Sewell). She performs a series of concerts at Talk of the Town while struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, going through the highs and lows of being a fading star.

What Works:

Renée Zellweger gives a phenomenal performance as Judy, stealing the show both when she’s in the spotlight and in the moments off stage. Her renditions of Garland’s songs are the highlights of the film, whether it’s when she’s performing in front of an audience or singing just for two of her fans in their apartment.

The film shows the dark sides of her life through appropriately-placed flashbacks that show her early days as an actor. Darci Shaw, who plays the young Judy portrays her struggles of balancing stardom and the harsh reality of barely having a life beyond work. Richard Cordery, who plays the hulking studio head Louis B. Mayer, is menacing especially as he removes the rebellion from the teenage Garland with harsh words to ensure she focuses on making movies for him.

With the contrast between the early and the last days of her career, Judy shows the downward spiral of Garland’s stardom but it’s handled with grace. The dark side of her life is shown but the film remains compassionate, with many touching scenes and even a touch of humor as she tries to remain positive despite the hardships she faces.

What Could’ve Been Better:

The film’s focus remains on Garland’s issues with alcohol and drugs, overshadowing many other aspects of her life, even reducing the involvement of the children to her two younger ones and just a single scene to feature her eldest daughter Liza Minelli, who had her own rising career at the time. Her relationship with Mickey Dean is explored just enough to add a bit of romance and drama to the film and doesn’t feel fully developed.

Why You Should Watch:

Renée Zellweger’s outstanding performance is reason enough to watch this film even if you’re not familiar with Judy Garland or her work. She has already received a Golden Globe and a SAG award for this role and is also a strong Oscar contender.