By Joanna Langfield

This decent enough bio-pic really only sings thanks to Renee Zellweger’s terrific performance.

Contrasting Garland’s last legendary 1968 run at London’s Talk of the Town nightclub with behind the scenes moments from her iconic Wizard of Oz, we get to see much of what made Judy be Judy. A child star who wanted some balance grows to be an adult star still aching for normalcy in a life when she is only “Judy Garland” two hours a day. Thanks to substance abuse issues and a few lousy husbands, among other things, this is a woman with great talent and even greater vulnerabilities. Her sad story makes for an irresistible role, should an actress have the kahunas to plunge in.

Zellwegger, returning to leading screen roles after a few years, brings not just a zest but what feels like a true understanding of this extremely famous and troubled woman. Remember, Garland didn’t just hit it big, but also suffered huge bumps along the way before there was Twitter, before fans could publicly cancel their heroes after one false step. People hung in there with Judy. And if you go back and YouTube some of her memorable TV appearances, you can see why. She was a great talent. And she needed you. You can feel it. Zellwegger, whose personal likeable quality has emanated from just about every performance she’s given, uses that likeability to temper the neediness. Her Judy is a smart mess, a superstar who’s stronger than perhaps even she will admit.

And yes, she sings. (Remember “Chicago”?) A slate of songs that will refresh older audiences is scattered throughout. But, of course, it all builds to the crescendo that is the timeless “Over the Rainbow”. Zellwegger captures the aching beauty of that worth-waiting-for song, creating a moment of contagious introspection as well as appreciation for a job very well done.