'Sid & Judy': Film Review | London 2019

Passion Pictures
A star is reborn.
10/18/2019

Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh lend their voices to Stephen Kijack's gossipy documentary about Judy Garland's stormy third marriage to Sidney Luft.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Judy Garland's untimely death, Sid & Judy plays like a companion piece to Rupert Goold's new Renee Zellweger-starring biopic Judy. Stephen Kijack's documentary is focused on the tragic Hollywood diva's midcareer revival, bouncing back after an acrimonious departure from MGM with her Oscar-nominated performance in A Star Is Born (1954) and record-breaking concerts on both sides of the Atlantic. Following its screening at the London Film Festival this week, this conventional but briskly entertaining TV bio-doc will debut Oct. 18 on Showtime.

Garland's second-act comeback was largely engineered by Sidney Luft, the third and longest lasting of her five husbands. Sid & Judy is based on Luft's memoir, Judy and I: My Life With Judy Garland, which was unfinished at the time of his death in 2005 but later pieced together by editors and posthumously published in 2017.

Their 13 years together produced two children, Lorna and Joey; Academy Award nods; hugely successful concert tours; and hit TV shows. But the singer's demons were never dormant, with suicide attempts, fragile financial fortunes, health problems, family tensions and deepening substance addiction all part of the wider picture.

Kijack lays out this story in a fairly methodical, linear fashion using a lively patchwork of archive video and audio clips, backstage stills, home movies, show-stopping musical numbers and brief animated sequences. In between snatches of firsthand recorded dialogue, Jon Hamm ventriloquizes Luft's words while Jennifer Jason Leigh does the same for Garland. These lightly stylized impersonations are full of pleasingly characterful shading, with Hamm giving Luft a laconic tough-guy delivery rooted in classic Bogart-era Hollywood while Leigh's ultranaturalistic delivery gives Garland a warm, brittle, heartfelt authenticity.

Hamm's presence is clearly intended to resonate with the film's retro-jazzy Mad Men milieu of sassy dames and zoot-suited guys, all sipping daiquiris together at late night Manhattan clubs and glitzy Hollywood pool parties. Among the background cameos are JFK, Frank Sinatra, Richard Avedon, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Streisand, Norman Jewison and other stellar names of the era.

Sid & Judy is a deluxe nonfiction soap opera, full of gossipy drama and rousing musical interludes, but it contains few fresh revelations not previously documented in the ever-expanding Garlandography of books, films and TV portraits. There are also some strange omissions from this chapter of her career, such as her second Oscar nomination for Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) and her bitter divorce battle with Luft in 1963, when she accused him of mental cruelty and physical violence. A modern-day coda sequence celebrating Garland's enduring status as a gay icon is a nice touch, though it has little bearing on the historical period covered by Kiijack's film.

Venue: London Film Festival
Production companies: Passion Pictures, Universal Pictures
Cast: Judy Garland, Sidney Luft, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Norman Jewison
Director: Stephen Kijack
Screenwriters: Claire Didier, Stephen Kijak
Producers: John Battsek, Diane Becker
Editor: Claire Didier
Music: Laura Karpman
Sales company: NBC Universal
97 minutes