|Judy Garland (Judy Davis) during difficult days|
"They tell me I'm washed up, so if you're using me you're in worse trouble than I am." -- Judy Garland to Sid Luft
"He adores me and I need to be adored -- I do." Garland regarding Vincente Minelli.
Judy Garland, one of the singing Gumm sisters, becomes a movie star in her early teens, develops a big, expressive voice that knocks out her listeners, and develops health, emotional, and addiction issues due to her over-reliance on diet pills, energy pills, all manner of pills to keep her alert, working, and thin -- plus booze. With the aid of second husband Sid Luft (Victor Garber), Garland engineered a triumphant comeback in A Star is Born (this film unaccountably makes it seem that this was her last picture, when she actually went on to make A Child is Waiting, Judgment at Nuremberg, and I Could Go On Singing etc.) Her personality affected by pills, Garland nevertheless managed to go on successful singing tours, and did both the Palace and Carnegie Hall in concerts that were considered outstanding by her fans and the critics. This is an excellent telefilm that doesn't shy away from the negative aspects of her life and character, but also shows her considerable artistry. Wisely (except for a couple of minor instances), Garland's real voice is used whenever she opens her mouth to sing, while the actresses who play her at different ages -- Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis (of My Brilliant Career) -- are particularly outstanding (Davis, who'd made a few movies by this time, got all the press, but arguably Blanchard might have had the slight edge on her -- she is that good). Australian actress Davis successfully subdues her accent, beautifully recreates Garland's Carnegie Hall concert (it's not just Garland's voice but Davis' acting), and has a great scene when Garland dresses down the condescending TV executives in the boardroom. (When Davis does "The Man That Got Away" for a sequence in A Star is Born, however, it borders on parody because Davis' movements are a little too large, even for Garland.) Busby Berkeley (Michael Rhoades) is depicted as a nasty bitch; there are catty comments about Grace Kelly after Garland loses the Oscar to her; and many of Garland's husbands/boyfriends turn out to be gay/bi, which the movie doesn't avoid. After the two Garland actresses, the most notable performances come from Alison Pill as young Lorna Luft; Victor Garber as her father; and Al Waxman as L. B. Mayer. There are several lookalike Liza Minelli's but they aren't given much to do (wonder why?). I'm not certain what to make of "Mickey Rooney" (Dwayne Adams) who is little like the real man. Life with Judy Garland gets across Garland's essentially winning personality and her sense of humor, which she had to rely upon for most of her short life.
I confess I've never been a major fan of Garland's, although I think she's a great singer, because I've often found her to be a little overwrought and over-bearing (although the film makes clear why this is so). I would have hated being the "caretaker" for this demanding, difficult woman as her daughter, Lorna, was. On the other hand, when you hear Garland sing her slow, heart-breaking version of "Over the Rainbow" at the Palace in 1951 it can move you to tears. That's an artist. And basically that's all you have to say about Garland.
Verdict: Moving and absorbing study of a talented and tormented chantreuse. Much, much better than the Broadway show "End of the Rainbow." ***1/2.