Much has been written about the legacy of Judy Garland, the legendary actress and singer who gave birth to an actress and singer of equal talent. There has been much gossip and speculation about both Judy's life and her offspring, particularly oldest daughter Liza Minnelli. While E True Hollywood Story can sometimes be rather intrusive in its efforts to get to the scandal of a story (and make the subject seem foolish or needy), this one is worthy of some praise because it takes a fair look at its subject. Liza Minnelli. What can you say about the woman with more "returns" than the phoenix? Oscar, multiple Tony's and Emmy's, a special Grammy. Able to get the crowd cheering the moment she begins to sing the lyrics, "Start spreading the news!" Maybe older audiences who grew up with Judy consider her to be a pale imitation; Younger audiences (particularly gay men of a certain age) consider her to be a drag queen and thus a joke. But for those in the middle, Liza is certainly worthy of her legend, and as a very subtle Michael Musto puts it, "A cautionary tale."
Brought up in a lavish Beverly Hills setting by parents Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli, Liza did not end up being a spoiled Hollywood brat. One thing you gather from interviews with her is how easy going and caring she is about her fellow man when not strung out or overwhelmed by personal problems. Even in those times, like her mother, she had the most outrageous humor, and nobody can tell a self-deprecating story like those two. You sense that in the deep corners of their mind they know how ridiculous their drama might seem to others, and it's a sort of cure to prevent further depression by laughing through the tears. Liza claims to this day that her mother gave her drive, her father gave her dreams, and even just watching documentary footage, you see how true this really is. They both doted on her and never allowed their failed marriage to take away from their mutual love for her. Two profoundly talented people put aside their differences for an all more important purpose: to make sure that their offspring survived the turmoil of a broken home and come through it as completely as possible.
This documentary features fascinating interviews with people who know her, stock footage of Judy and Liza themselves in various interviews over the years, and one thing you can see in Liza is her love of life, people, and entertaining. But there's no taking their talent for granted, and there's no false claim that they are without sin or imperfection. Some of the people they interview say way too much in a rather acerbic manner (Joe Eula's snarky commentary makes him come off rather unlikable even if he's telling it like he sees it or just reading a script), and others more subtle than normal: Michael Musto in particular, toned down from other interviews I've seen him in. Cindy Adams comes off just as you'd expect her to be, funny in some spots, unnecessarily bitchy in others. Celebrity co- stars and friends Chita Rivera, Sally Kirkland and Ken Howard also give a true human portrait of how Liza is off screen, making you feel you know her personally, too. There's also conversations with Vincent's last wife, Lee, who reveals without full detail provided alleged "elder abuse" involving Liza's desire to sell Vincent's house without providing Lee with alternative housing as per an old agreement. Liza's half siblings by Judy (Lorna and Joey) are mentioned but not interviewed, although her half sibling by Vincent (Christiane Nina) is not.
As this was made in 2002, there's 15 years of her life missing, ending with her marriage to David Gest that ended abruptly soon after the circus like wedding. But, seeing her go from little girl to rising gypsy in summer stock and Off Broadway to Tony Winning Broadway actress at the age of 19 to Oscar Winning Actress at 27 to troubled participant in the Studio 54 days. Box office poison after a surge to fame, yet able to fill Radio City Music Hall and other performing venues. Her exhaustion, her drug and alcohol usage, her health issues, her four marriages, all documented surrounded by her unending sense of humor and desire to rise above these issues. I wouldn't call this a perfect account of her life up to that point; A concert with her just singing and dancing alone could fill that mark, but it sure is darn close. Here's hoping that Liza gets her due with a Kennedy Center honor, something that could bring down that house as a chorus of her celebrity fans serenade her with a chorus of "Life is a Cabaret, old chum."
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