Last night, I watched the entire 3+ hours of "Me & My Shadows -- Life With Judy Garland." A friend (in the media) obtained a copy from ABC and several of us got together and screened it. What follows is my personal opinion/critique of a film and is not intended as an attack on anyone.
Without seeing the real Judy Garland and experiencing her indefinable magic, her story is not pleasant and cannot even remotely be described as entertaining. The overriding feeling I came away with is that Lorna Luft must really loathe her mother despite all of her "heartfelt" gushing to the press. The portrait offered here is one of a miserable, tortured person who is ultimately just a pain in the ass to everyone around her. She's not endearing or lovable in any way -- just miserable.
Judy Davis is an actress of range and competence and she has obviously studied the real Judy Garland on film because her performance is fraught with mannerisms and gestures mimicking the real Judy but totally lacking in personal warmth and magnetism. I believe personal warmth (on the level that Judy Garland possessed it) is not something that can be acted -- you either have it or you don't and (unfortunately for this production) Ms. Davis simply doesn't have it.
As a film, it's bad movie-making. You have no sense of the vast proportion of Judy's life. Everything looks small, low-rent and uninteresting. Imagine making Judy Garland seem boring! The melodramatic scenes are about her misery and pills. Her successes and achievements are only relayed via fake newsreels and bad montages. The one positive thing I can say about the production (which looks like "Toronto on a shoestring") is that the costumes were quite authentic.
My friends and I confused the actors who played Frank Gumm, Roger Edens and Vincente Minnelli, respectively. They all looked basically alike and were easily interchangeable. (Anyone draw a common thread between these three characters?) Yes, they come off as being gay (and there are some not-so-subtle references to that regarding Frank's and Vincente's characters). (As I recall from Lorna's book, she stated very strongly that neither Frank Gumm nor Vincente Minnelli were gay and how upset she was when people said they were. What caused you to totally reverse your opinion on that subject, Lorna?) The prize for the most "gay" performance, however, goes to the young man playing Mickey Rooney.
Liza and Joe are practically extras. They appear but have virtually no dialogue at all. Lorna's character has some lines and scenes toward the end (which were the only ones I recognized as being from her book). I would say that out of over three hours, maybe 10 minutes is actually from Lorna's book. The rest appears to be taken from the Gerold Frank book (along with a scene or two stolen from Mr. Minnelli's book and Steve Sander's book).
I question the wisdom of the choice to recreate some of the most familiar classic scenes from Judy's film career and thus invite the inevitable comparisons. I think most people who know the material extremely well, will be offended by these scenes. Those who like watching drag queens impersonate Judy, may find them enjoyable. As I said, Ms. Davis has obviously studied the original scenes carefully and she does a very good impression but for me, it was uncomfortably eerie (and somewhat creepy) to watch her lip-synching to Judy's voice. No matter how good an actress Judy Davis is (and at 45, she is in good physical shape) she simply cannot pass for 22 (as Judy making Meet Me In St. Louis). The sight of her on the trolley (wearing a bright orange wig that looked like something you'd only see on Halloween) is one I'd rather forget.
The real Lorna narrates throughout in a stilted manner which adds nothing of any merit to the film. She reads with no expression like she just learned how to read (sounding the words out phonetically).
After it was over and I was home, I had to watch about an hour of the Pioneer DVD set in an attempt to wipe those images out of my mind before going to sleep.
To conclude, I cannot imagine anyone but the most devout Judy Garland fans (or Judy Davis fans) sitting through more than five minutes of it because it's really quite boring as a movie. I believe Judy Garland deserves better than this and I can only hope that this epic will sink quickly back into the cesspool from which it came. As the self-proclaimed "keeper of the Garland legacy," I find Ms. Luft woefully lacking. Let's hope this will be the final installment of her rage and bitterness against her mother that the public has to endure.