TV Movie: “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”

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The great thing, that seems to be rediscovered time and again, is that television has been home to some of the greatest programming produced in recent years. If it’s not a series, it’s usually through a movie of some sort.

The mini-series is a fine example of what great programming can be. If left in the right hands an exciting and entertaining story can be told that you’ll love again and again.

The television film “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”, continues to show that even after all these years, this tragic and complicated story remains as captivating and powerful as when it first aired.

This biographical film stars Judy Davis (upcoming “Salting the Battlefield”, “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet”), Victor Garber (“Power”, “Sleepy Hollow”), Hugh Laurie (“Mr. Pip”, “House M.D.”), John Benjamin Hickey (“Manhattan”, “Ge On Up”), Sonja Smits (“The Best Laid Plans”, “Cybergeddon Zips”), Alison Pill (“The Newsroom”, ” Snowpiercecr”), Marsha Mason (“The Middle”, “Army Wives”), and Tammy Blanchard (“Blue Jasmine”, “Burning Blue”).

The film was directed by Robert Allan Ackerman (“The Ramen Girl”, “The Reagans”) and written by Robert L. Freedman (“The Pastors Wife”, “Murder in the Hamptons”). It is based on the memoir “Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir”, by Lorna Luft.

This mini-series originally aired on Feb. 25 and 26, 2001, on ABC.

The film would later go on to be nominated for 13 Emmy Awards; winning five including Outstanding Lead Actress for Davis and Supporting Actress for Blanchard, three Golden Globe Awards; winning one for Davis, and one Screen Actors Guild nomination and win for Davis, among several other award nominations and wins.

Ever since having seen this, all those years ago, I’d been incredibly intrigued by the actors involved. They each gave such great performances, that it helped to create a world few see, but only hear about. That, and the time was so long ago, that it seems foreign somehow.

Of course the stand outs were the actors featured prominently, as they had a lot to carry and do in order to tell a story with details that, probably, more or less happened. I don’t think I’d heard of who Davis was, and as this was Blanchard’s first role, it was a great way to start and see if this young woman had any future. Because each was portraying various aspects of Judy Garland, there was a ton to embody.

While Blanchard may only appear for a short amount of time, she still carry’s so much. She goes from young girl wanting to make it to controlled and broken, all before she’s really an adult. So sad to think this is how actors were treated. She may have had other issues, that weren’t explored, but this stuff alone would make anyone fractured and desperate for love from those around them. I was able to feel like I was seeing Garland the way the public did when she was around. That’s what helped make this fascinating to watch. She captured the energy that I’m sure was there when she performed and did her job.

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Davis carried the rest of the film and that’s truly where things got interesting. Yes one still gets to see some behind the scenes moments of her working on films, but it was the other moments in her life that really told how much she had to fight against. So many struggles and her drug addiction was center to every issue she had, or result of. Even with these troubles, Davis gave a layered performance and made her just as fascinating a person as she was and still remembered as.

For me, the only things of her private life I know are the same ones everyone else does. Each of these was portrayed in a pretty convincing manner, especially the way in which Garland and the other actors mentioned, and not, were treated very much like property. Everything was controlled in specific, and aggressive ways, including the pills, that it’s a wonder more actors from that time didn’t die from this particular type of drug use. I may not have heard the stories if there have been others. Even though I know it’s going to happen, still seeing the borderline abusive treatment still has me shaking my head and feeling disgusted. These people that run the studios were not as nice as the public would be willing to believe. I do know that this could be a big dramatization, but with similar stories out there of this type of behavior, from this time, I doubt it. I can’t say if today is any better, but I’m sure, or hoping, they don’t act so much like they did back then.

The supporting players have to be mentioned as each was crucial, not just for a story, but as to who Garland would be, the good and the bad. Laurie and Garber were both very good at portraying two different people that desperately wanted to love Garland. Complicated people as well, but that didn’t stop them from trying to be there for her and care about her. Sadly, as they portray, they couldn’t make her happy which only added to the drama. The different relationships were believable and sad to watch. Lastly, of major supporters, was Mason as Garland’s mother. While she meant well, she was also so caught up and warped by this success her daughter had. Mason played it well that at times you wanted to plain hate her, even if she was doing something to better the family. It’s amazing how much of a hand a parent can have at slowly destroying their own child.

As this is a period film as well, the look and feel was captured spectacularly. Another reason one can get so caught up in this. At times, it felt like some sort of “Christmas Carol” like experience. And it wasn’t just the designs for the period, but the replications of sets and costumes for the films that were featured. When it comes to replications, or trying to get an actor to look like the person they’re portraying, I’m usually surprised at how much they succeed and can thus keep me immersed in the story. Believed it fully here. I’m also glad that they used original recordings of the songs Garland sang, as opposed to simply having Davis sing. It would’ve been a much different viewing experience if they had.

Just because a film is hailed as really good and receives a lot of accolades does not make it so. At least that’s what I’ve been learning time and again for many films. This one, however, even after all this time, is still worthy of all that praise it got. It tells an incredibly fascinating and intriguing story of legend, who was troubled throughout her short life. While broadcast networks may not do many well thought out mini-series, or biopics (the last of either was “Elvis: The Miniseries”) I’m always thankful for this one. This is a film, even now, that should not be missed.

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One thought on “TV Movie: “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”

  1. Pingback: Miniseries: “The Tommyknockers” | Past, Present, Future in TV and Film

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