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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Judy

“Adopt a Highway” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Renée Zellweger is Judy Garland in “Judy.” The hair, the makeup, the voice, the facial expressions, the mannerisms—in every respect, Zellweger does more than just imitate Garland, she becomes Garland. It’s almost as if Zellweger isn’t just playing Garland, but channeling her somehow. This is one of those performances where I sometimes thought I was actually watching Judy Garland and not another actress playing her. Zellweger is that good.

Zellweger not only encapsulates the look and feel of Judy Garland, she also nails the sound. When we finally get to hear her sing mid-way through “Judy,” she captures the voice timbre of the older Garland, a woman whose voice isn’t as sweet as when she was a child and has been set upon by age, cigarettes, and a tracheotomy. Still, when she wants to, she can carry a tune.

“Judy” takes place toward the end of Garland’s life. The year is 1968, work has dried up, and money is tight. She can’t get work in Hollywood because the studios regard her as unreliable and uninsurable. For years Garland resisted the invitation to go to London and perform, but now she has no choice. She flies over to do a series of concerts for promoter Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon).

As Delfont and his assistant Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) soon discover, they can take Judy out of Hollywood, but they can’t take Hollywood out of Judy. Her reputation turns out to be true, as numerous times throughout the course of “Judy” Garland is drunk, drugged up, or probably both. She’s the quintessential pill-popping diva, prone to flaking out at the most inopportune times. To say that Rosalyn has her hands full in looking after Garland is an understatement.

However, like most great performers, Garland knows that the show must go on. After having to be dragged and dressed from her hotel to the concert venue on opening night, Garland goes on stage and does a great show. The camera lovingly lingers on Garland as she sings her heart out, recapturing the magic of yesteryear. For her part, Zellweger completely nails the performance.

Not all shows go this well, and “Judy” hits the usual beats of these biopics in which she finally loses it and has a low point. This leads into the last act of the movie in which she gets it together again and has a shot at redemption. As formulaic as it is, it is at least well executed. The movie doesn’t disappoint in that we do eventually get to hear Garland sing her signature song “Over the Rainbow,” but how it is done in the movie is a warm and sweet surprise.

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Garland’s performances are largely affected by her moods. In turn, her moods are largely affected by her personal relationships. Most significantly, the custody battle with ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) over their two little children Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) weighs on her, as do the high and lows with love interest and eventual fifth and final husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).

The relationships only account for part of her behavior, though. They contribute to her emotional state, but how she handles her emotional state is through substance abuse, which also causes her to behave the way she does. There are flashback scenes in “Judy” in which we see a young Garland (Darci Shaw) get pressured by an overbearing Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) to be his big star. To this end, Garland was forced to adhere to a strict diet and given various uppers and downers so she could do whatever she needed to do, whether it’s to perform in “The Wizard of Oz” or go to sleep. She was treated like property by the studio, something Garland rebelled against. Good thing for her that she had that wonderful voice. Buy it.

More New Releases: “Adopt a Highway,” in which an ex-felon discovers a live baby left in a dumpster, starring Ethan Hawke; “Kill Team,” in which a young American soldier in Afghanistan is disturbed by his commanding officer's behavior and is faced with a moral dilemma, starring Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgård; and “After Party,” in which a group of social media influencers go to an afterparty in a Hollywood Hills mansion only to find themselves the target of a ruthless masked killer, starring Simona Shyne and Danny Trejo.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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