The film opens with the young Judy (Darci Shaw) being given a fatherly talking to by Louis B. Meyer (as of Metro Goldwyn Meyer or MGM). I am not sure which actor took that role as IMDB doesn’t list him. They are in the middle of filming The Wizard of Oz.
I would just like some time, Judy says.
Time to do what? he asks.
To do whatever other 15 year old girls do. She is not sure what that is but not working 18 hour days at the studio and being starved in the process to avoid Dorothy putting on weight.
She is, Meyer tells her, welcome to go and rejoin the ranks of ‘ordinary’ 15 years olds out there – as he points dramatically beyond the studio gate – like “a drop of rain falling into the Pacific Ocean” never to be heard of again. We know she does not take him up on that offer. Follow this with shots of Judy being denied food by the studio, being given anti-hunger pills, pills to help her sleep when she can’t, being told she can’t swim in a pool (disarranges the hair) or eat her own birthday cake. It is also implied that she was sexually assaulted by Meyer.
The camera pans out to show a fake yellow brick road surrounded by banks of garish and plastic red roses – if you seek a monument to Hollywood look around you.
Cut to thirty years later. Adult Judy (Renée Zellweger) sees her career in freefall owing largely to her unreliability caused by alcohol dependency. And yes it’s a good performance from Zellweger if you enjoy watching people disintegrate, she does it well.
Judy is now a survivor of three marriages and has three children. Two of them ride in the car with her – it is nearly 1 o’clock in the morning and they have school next day. At the usual hotel she is told “Miss Garland we regret your suite has been released”.
Released where? Bring it back, she says.
But the suite is not recalled or recovered because it has not been paid for.
To cut a very, very long story short, Judy is forced to go to London to do a tour. Why London? Because they still want her and will pay good money to see her. Quite reasonably she doesn’t want to go and leave her children but go she does.
One of the greatest mysteries of this film was the role given to Jessie Buckley who starred in Wild Rose (the story of a young working class girl with a yen to be a famous country singer) and was rather fantastic in that I seem to remember, with a lovely voice of her own. She has the unenviable role here of Rosalyn Wilder – a minion assigned to Garland while she is on tour in the UK. Her job is to get Judy onto the stage, on time, and not in a state of disarray. There are various agonising scenes of Rosalyn looking agonised.
Toe curlingly embarrassing scene follows upon toe curlingly embarrassing scene of drunkenness interspersed with the odd successful song and cheering audience and all liberally soaked in pathos and awash with sentimentality – the faithful gay fan in the audience who bursts into song with Judy at the end because she can’t get through Over the Rainbow. At this point I felt like throwing up.
I have no idea what point this film was trying to make. That it’s a bad idea to appear in The Wizard of Oz at 15? That it’s a bad idea to be Judy Garland. That she was a victim and we should all feel sorry? Why, as Mr. Rune quite rightly asked, would you make a film exclusively focusing on the nadir of someone’s life?
Liza Minnelli apparently wanted nothing whatever to do with this film, and that at last is something I completely understand.