Once in a Lullaby: Renee Zellweger is Magnificent as Judy 

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"If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow..." why oh why couldn't Judy Garland? In the 50 years since she died, our fascination with the woman born Frances Gumm but would become better known as Judy Garland has only deepened. While there have been some plays, a few TV miniseries and a shelf-full of unauthorized biographies, there really hadn't been a worthy showcase for the immeasurable talent of Judy Garland in the medium that celebrated her best—film. That is, until now.

Casting Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland was always going to be... well, how can we best describe it? An intriguing idea? A novelty, perhaps? I'm certain that it was such curiosity that lured a couple thousand filmgoers into Toronto's palatial Princess of Wales Theatre on Sept. 9. The first screening of the much-anticipated Judy, with Zellweger walking the red carpet at the premiere, was certain to be a draw at this year's edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. But two hours later, when the lights came up, the audience leapt to its feet and launched the longest and loudest ovation of the entire 10-day festival. When the evening's main attraction walked to center stage, bowed her head and brushed away a few tears, the soft-spoken Zellweger reminded attendees that the Texas born-and-bred actress was nothing like Garland in the flesh, and Zellweger's transformation was all the more remarkable.

"Y'all better quit it, because you're messin' up my makeup," said a heart-hugging Zellwegger in a near-hush that quickly quieted the audience. "I'm deeply touched."

Featuring musical performances—Zellweger does all her own singing—that people will be buzzing about for quite some time, Judy packs a wallop. But more stunning than Zellweger's portrayal was the gut punch at the very end of the film, when an end title reads, "Judy Garland died in June 1969. She was 47 years old." At that exact moment, the rapturous applause screeched to a halt as a pronounced, almost coordinated, loud gasp filled the cavernous theater. A few seconds later, the still-reeling audience resumed its applause and it reached a music-like crescendo when Zellweger stepped into the spotlight. She was awash in adoration usually reserved for someone extraordinary like... well, like Judy Garland.

"When I was a little girl, growing up in Texas, I never really thought about growing up to be an actress. Judy Garland was just someone that I loved. She was a part of my childhood, like I'm sure she was a part of your own childhood. Like many of you, there she was once a year on TV, in The Wizard of Oz," said Zellweger. "I guess I took her for granted, because she was always there."

Indeed, Judy Garland appeared to be "always there," if we think of "there" as on stage or on film. From the age of 2, she sang, danced, acted and sadly, abused. So, a word of caution: Judy is not a celebration of Garland's full 47 years; instead, it's a deconstruction of her heartbreaking final days when, in 1969, she appeared in a series of mercurial performances at London's fashionable The Talk of the Town nightclub. At the time, Garland couldn't get a nightclub gig, let alone a movie or television audition, in the U.S.; so, waist-deep in debt and at risk of losing custody of her children, Garland accepted a five-week gig across the pond. It was reported that some of those performances were breathtaking, while other performances were difficult to witness. Judy includes all of that pathos, so it required an actress at the absolute top of her game.

"There was no one else who had the ability to sing, act and be comedic in the way that we needed Judy to be portrayed. And by good fortune, Renee was the same age as Judy at the time she gave these London shows," David Livingstone, the film's producer, told me prior to the premiere.

"We needed somebody who has a bit of the comedienne about them, because Judy was hilarious and known for it," added Director Rupert Gold. "But I also I think because Renee has done a lot of hugely high-profile comedies, people may forget about films like Cold Mountain, for which she won an Oscar, and some of the other dramatic films she's made. She has something that, despite the fact that she's extraordinarily beautiful and talented, Renee reaches out and connects to people at some level."

Connection. That's it. That's the special something that Ms. Zellweger achieves in a career-topping, knock-out performance that will have you swearing you're watching the real Garland. It's also a reminder that, with the right role and script, Zellweger is among the very, very best actors of her generation. And it's bound to punch her ticket for a return trip to the Oscars.

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1232 N. Galleria Dr.
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913 Arthur St
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Judy
Rated PG-13 · 118 minutes · 2019
Official Site: www.judythefilm.com
Director: Rupert Goold
Producer: David Livingstone, Cameron McCracken, Rose Garnett, Andrea Scarso, Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Laurence Myers, Lee Dean, Aaron Levene, Hillary Williams, Charles Diamond and Ellis Goodman
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Michael Gambon, Bella Ramsey, Andy Nyman, Gaia Weiss, Philippe Spall, Fenella Woolgar, Royce Pierreson, Phil Dunster, Darci Shaw, Diana Pocol, John Dagleish, Richard Cordery, Daniel Cerqueira, Lewin Lloyd, Tom Durant-Pritchard, Adrian Lukis, Gus Barry, Jodie McNee and Gus Brown

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