Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


Loved by millions the world over, Judy Garland (Tammy Blanchard & Judy Davis) - nee Frances Gumm - was the brightest star in Hollywood's Golden Era. Away from the bright lights and brilliant performances, however, her devotion was to her family. But while she loved her children unconditionally, they could only desperately try and hang on to their mother as a powerful dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs began to consume her life.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I guess if your life was as tumultuous and crammed with life matters as was Judy Garland's, yours, too, would need a mini series or a three hour movie to begin to do it justice. The fascination with Garland that continues - enough to fuel this undertaking - is probably driven by the extraordinary contrasts of her life: a wildly successful and glamorous start as a teenage movie star - portrayed superbly by Tammy Blanchard - giving way to superstardom as an adult at MGM, followed by insecurity, depression, pills and suicidal incidents.

Judy Davis picks up the role as a young woman (about a quarter of the way in) and delivers a Garland that is both authentic and vibrantly real. It's an astonishing, consistent and heartbreaking (multi-award winning] performance, and luckily the entire production lives up to her standard, with direction, cinematography and design all contributing to the smash hit result. Hugh Laurie as Vincente Minelli, Liza's father, and Victor Garber as Sid Luft, Lorna's father (Lorna's memoirs provide the basis for the screenplay) are rounded characters in a dramatic story that would seem soapy if fiction. And that's because the fiction could never quite match the complexities, contradictions and unlikely elements of this true story. Alison Pill is memorable as Lorna, the daughter who is proud of her mother and who at the end, points out that her mother was never a tragic. She was an eternal optimist who bounced back with hope after every setback.

Technically, the film is truly splendid and the lip-synching (to Garland's recordings) is so good, and the matching performances so good, that we are swept into the places and the times of the world of Judy Garland, the girl who doubted that she was any good, who feared being a nobody called Frances Gumm. The Gumm Sisters, she said when refusing to use that name as a youngster, was a label inviting ridicule.

Her father's death devastated her, and was made much worse by the fact she couldn't be at his bedside. It haunted her the rest of her life. Her highly strung nature, which propelled her performances, had a downside in her personal life and the studios that hired her wanted their money's worth. The pressures often ruptured the fragile balloon of her stability. The pills were a desperate prop - but they also damaged her, and stints in rehab didn't really help.

By far the most profound insight this film provides is into Judy/Frances. But it also highlights the gossamer flimsiness of showbiz success and how the superficial glitz is often covering deep pain and the fear of falling into a career abyss. Oh, and that jawdropping performance from Judy Davis, like I said before.

Lorna Luft and director Ackerman provide a lively and interesting commentary, helping us appreciate the production as well as the story of both Lorna and her mother. Ackerman's depth of research shows. The Making Of feature includes Judy Davis talking about the role and how she approached it. It touches on several key issues, including the all important choreography and how they captured the Garland moves.

Obviously, this is a must-have disc for Judy Garland fans, but it's a thoroughly engaging, entertaining and moving exploration of a star we think we know - but not as well as we do now, after seeing this work.

Published April 16, 2009

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2001)

CAST: Judy Davis, Tammy Blanchard, Hugh Laurie, Victor Garber, Daniel Kash, Alison Pill, Jayne Eastwood, Sonja Smits, John Benjamin Hickey, Al Waxman, Dwayne Adams, Brandi Ward, Lindy Booth

NARRATION: Cynthia Gibb

PRODUCER: Robert L. Freedman, John Ryan

DIRECTOR: Robert Allan Ackerman

SCRIPT: Robert L. Freedman (memoir by Lorna Luft)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Cressanthis

EDITOR: Dody Dorn

MUSIC: William Ross


RUNNING TIME: 184 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Judy Garland's daughter Lorna Luft, director Robert Ackerman and costume designer Donna Granada; Behind-The-Scenes Featurette; Exclusive "I Play The Palace" Featurette


DVD RELEASE: April 13, 2007

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020