“Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high…” I hear this line in Judy Garland’s voice whenever I read it in my head — and I can’t be the only one. While the poetic lyrics and her dreamy singing still touch our hearts almost a hundred years later, Garland herself may have been the one person that was tortured by this work of art. Judy portrays the tragic later years of Judy Garland (played by Renée Zellweger), who was once America’s sweetheart, and reveals the atrocious entertainment industry behind the creation of this beloved Hollywood persona — or rather, Hollywood victim. Warning: the review contains spoilers.
For an admired celebrity, it is ironic that the driving force of the plot is Judy’s desire to be loved and needed. She moves to London hoping only to earn enough to reunite with her children and be the mother they need. She is also quick to fall in love with Mickey Deans (played by Finn Witrock), the only person that took any interest in her at a party. Though the need to be loved is a basic human desire, Judy clearly shows an excessive demand for reassurance. For instance, she marries Mickey hastily in order to secure their relationship. Through frequent flashbacks, the movie makes it clear that this all comes down to the fear of being abandoned, which her producer planted in her head from a young age — fans will only be fans for as long as she remains the “doll” they want to see. As a result, Judy is seen as insomnious, anxious, and somewhat delirious behind the spotlight. The movie successfully portrays the absurdity of the entertainment industry that commercializes individuals, and the bitter consumer society that judges them by their product value.
However, it is regrettable that there wasn’t much to take away from the bland plot. Judy’s insecure life as a fallen American superstar finds a silver lining when she is invited to London for a big production in her name. From that point on, everything is as you’d expect it to be. Her anxiety cannot get in the way of her natural-born talent as a performer, which leads the production to an initial success. However, the production spirals downwards after she divorces Mickey, who very evidently had mal-intents from the beginning. This obviously results in her already-existent mental insecurities and alcohol and drug use getting out of hand, and eventually, she is no longer wanted on stage. When she is allowed a final performance, she sings the song we have all been waiting for the whole movie: “Over the Rainbow”.
The dullness can be forgiven to some degree, as this is a biography based on true events. In fact, the iconic song was the final song Garland performed in her career (although it was in Denmark, not the UK). Nevertheless, for the love of God, how I cringed at the final scene, where the audience started to sing along to complete the song for tearful Judy. One may claim this as a heart-rending ending, since the audience finally connects to Judy at a personal level instead of seeing her as a mere product of Hollywood. However, I found this completely inappropriate, and not just for how disappointingly cliché it was. The scene undermines the message and the emotions that have been built up to this point through Zellweger’s superb acting (bless her, she definitely deserved the Oscar). It’s as if this short moment of connection is meant to compensate for a lifelong suffering, and to offer the audience, who had bitterly kicked Judy off stage when she was no longer valuable as a product, an absolution.
Although some parts of the plot were disenchanting, it overall provides a good outlook on how the entertainment industry took away the youth and gnawed at the soul of a beautiful woman with extraordinary talent. Especially with the award-winning performance of Zellweger, the emotions Garland had to struggle through truly reached out to the audience. May she rest in peace in the Emerald City she could not reach in her lifetime, “where troubles melt like lemon drops”.