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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Judy is a sympathetic but sad biopic about Judy Garland in the late '60s, 30 years after she became a star in The Wizard of Oz. Renée Zellweger portrays the singer as a loving but not always dependable mother who makes difficult choices in an effort to get custody of her children (Garland's ex-husband Sid Luft isn't portrayed as a bad guy -- his actions are clearly in the kids' best interest). Though the movie will appeal to Garland's adult admirers, it may serve as a cautionary tale for budding teen performers. The movie traces the origin of Garland's substance abuse, eating disorder, and desperation for male approval back to the abusive behavior of her MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer; he's shown treating her like a product rather than a girl in her formative years. Garland's alcoholism and pill addiction are on full display (as is period-accurate smoking), but the substance abuse is never glamorized. Strong language isn't frequent but includes one use of "f--king," plus "s--t," "bastard," and more. Garland's love life is part of the plot, but on-screen content is limited to kisses and flirting.
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What's the story?
In JUDY, with her career flagging and in desperate need of money to support her kids, Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) embarks on a five-week-long, sold-out run of shows in London. She's welcomed eagerly, but will she be able to overcome her demons -- many of which are traced via flashbacks to her time filming The Wizard of Oz -- and reunite with the children she loves so much?
Is it any good?
Rupert Goold gives us a heartbreaking reminder that the giddy, life-is-swell, rolling-in-money lives depicted through curated photos don't tell the whole story. This is an especially powerful reminder in an age of endless entertainment platforms and social media sites that seem ready to offer quick fame and fortune. The bulk of the action in Judy takes place when Garland had less than a year left to live, but Goold flashes back to key teenage moments when things went off-kilter for her due to emotional manipulation, pill pushing by authority figures, and bullying. The story could help teen viewers understand the magnitude of how authority figures can use soft-spoken intimidation in devious, life-altering ways. If only Garland's hopeful, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other outlook had resulted in a different outcome, her story could have been a triumph instead of a tragedy.
Zellweger is the pot of gold at the end of Garland's rainbow. When she belts out "By Myself," it's like watching a caterpillar metamorphosize in front of your eyes: squinty, insecure Bridget Jones is gone, transformed into the gaunt but graceful doe-eyed legend. Zellweger nails Garland's speaking voice, mannerisms, and body positioning -- but it's not an imitation, it’s an explanation. She pulls at her scarf, and we read just how uncomfortable she is in her own skin. When Garland performs, she's shoulders-back confident; when she rests in private conversation, her shoulders curve in, her back forms a C, and we realize it's a form of self-protection (which is necessary because literally no one else has her back). Zellwegger's Garland has a way of making others feel at ease and special, creating a warmth over the course of a short interaction. But Zellwegger also shows us that these are one-sided gifts Garland would give; she never received the authentic emotional connection she craved, except with her kids. And perhaps that's why writer Tom Edge put the entire story in the context of Garland's relationship with her children, so we could feel her inner destruction when it appears she's losing that, too.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how society treats celebrities. Why do we like to gossip about them? Do you think we need to cut them some slack? Or do some deserve criticism?
How was Garland treated by Louis B. Mayer? Who else was complicit in the psychological abuse she endured? Do you think anything would have changed if she'd had a strong parent advocate? Do you think anything like this goes on today?
How is substance abuse depicted in Judy? Is there ever a scene where you felt drinking, smoking, or doing drugs was glamorized? How were the filmmakers deliberate about putting the use in a nonjudgmental yet negative light?
- In theaters: September 27, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: December 24, 2019
- Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
- Director: Rupert Goold
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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