Heart-rending portrait of a diva in distress

Heart-rending portrait of a diva in distress Renee Zellweger Photo: Classic FM

“If I’m a legend,” Judy Garland said once, “why am I so lonely?” Maybe that was precisely why.

“I was born,” she said, “at the age of 12 on the MGM lot.” A tendency towards weight gain caused Louis B. Meyer to put her on a punishing regime of slimming tablets.

An addiction to pills and alcohol formed the cornerstone of a rollercoaster life for the emotionally-charged actress before her death in 1969.

By then she was only a shadow of herself. She’d been dropped by the studio she made millions for, reduced to stage performances in London to earn a crust.

Judy goes straight from The Wizard of Oz to the autumn of her career. The trajectory underlines the manner in which she failed to find the magic place ‘over the rainbow’ that she sang so poignantly about.


Renee Zellweger is a ringer for her. It’s not just her appearance, it’s everything – the hair, the walk, the expressions, the voice, the twinkle in the eye, even the way she holds a cigarette. When she bends her back in that concave arch she becomes her.

Can this really be the same actress who was so pudgy as Bridget Jones? What a chameleon. She’s stick-thin here.

We see Garland as a gay icon, as a woman struggling with a quickfire temper and child custody problems. Zellweger conveys both girlishness and desperation. She gives us the humour and pathos of a woman at the end of her tether.

She clutches at straws of past grandeur in a foreign country after her own one disowns her.

Are we talking Oscar? We should be. Zellweger’s performance is up there with the Meryl Streep of The Iron Lady, the Natalie Portman of Jackie.

I was also reminded of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard – and even Vivien Leigh from A Streetcar Named Desire. The same raw pain is there.

In one scene she’s asked what she took for depression. “Four husbands,” she replies.

She’s about to marry her fifth, Micky Deans, as the film begins. I love what her daughter, Liza Minnelli, said to her after she asked her to the wedding: “I can’t make it, Momma, but I promise to be at your next one.”

She died in a bathroom, like Elvis. He was 42, she 47. The cause was given as the same – substance abuse – but if we look deeper it was burn-out.

Despite all the fame and fortune, both of them were singing for their supper as their stars waned.

This is a fabulous film about a tragic figure who mixed huge determination with equally substantial emotional fragility. In that seesaw she loved and lost, rose and fell, lived and died.

Drowned in eye shadow as she tries to roll back the years, the star who was born Frances Gumm will give you goosebumps as she belts out big band showstoppers in this sensitive lament for a troubled soul.