Amy (2015)

December 22, 2015

Starring: a documentary about Amy Winehouse
Director: Asif Kapadia (Senna)

Bottom Line: It’s hard to believe that Amy Winehouse has been dead for nearly five years. It’s even harder to believe that her tremendous 2006 classic Back To Black, the first album that really helped me realize that I could fall in love with music that wasn’t hip-hop, came out almost ten years ago. In fact, with all the media attention focusing on her addiction and public meltdowns the last few years of her life, making her out to be a joke, I wouldn’t be surprised if more people remember her for being a total mess than for being one of the best songwriters and singers of the 21st century. Amy should help rectify that negative image and paint a clearer picture of what exactly pushed Winehouse to the edge.

Amy is filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the rise and tragic death of British superstar Amy Winehouse. And it’s stunning. And absolutely brutal. Scary even. It’s like watching Requiem For A Dream – except real. Amy paints an honest and accurate portrayal – with the help of a plethora of home video featuring a pre-stardom Winehouse and tons of interviews with those closest to her – of how a happy-go-lucky, seemingly ordinary British teen with a great voice becomes arguably the greatest jazz singer of her generation and how the unwanted and enormous fame she rose to, the unrelenting paparazzi and attention she received everywhere she went, and, drug and alcohol addiction ultimately killed her.

Early in the documentary, long before Winehouse releases Back To Black, she predicts how she would react to fame: “I don’t think I could handle it. I would go mad.” It’s an unfortunately accurate prediction and it becomes clear that while Winehouse absolutely loved making and performing her music, she had absolutely no interest in the cultural responsibilities that came with it – and that’s a question that Amy effectively raises: musicians, athletes, actors, and other celebrities are often faulted for being poor role models, but is it one’s responsibility to be a good role model or a good ambassador simply for doing what they are passionate about? And should the media be allowed to make their lives hell every time they slip up or don’t welcome them with open arms? Like normal humans never make mistakes?

Of course, Amy’s path towards addiction goes a bit deeper than that. Back To Black was largely inspired by her relationship with Blake Fielder, her future husband and this film paints that relationship as anything but rosy. Winehouse seems plenty happy and totally in love, but to call Fielder an enabler would be putting it mildly. Someone in the film, a doctor, even goes as far as to say that Fielder treated Winehouse as a means to keep the free high going with little regard to the awful affects it was having on his wife. Regardless of whether any of this is truly accurate information, I can’t help but wonder how Amy Winehouse’s inner circle could ever let things get so bad. Her parents… her husband… her manager…? The rest of her team? No one saw this coming? No one cared enough rescue her from herself?

I knew Amy Winehouse was going to die. I just couldn’t see any way that it wasn’t going to happen. I don’t mean to say that with judgement or because the media was influencing my thoughts due to their portrayal of her. I knew it as a fellow alcoholic. I knew that if she didn’t figure things out and didn’t get help that stuck, she wasn’t long for this world. I knew, and still know, that I would die or be in jail if I didn’t give up alcohol. And perhaps it’s unfair to point fingers at the people around her – I could never get help unless I was forced to make a decision between jail or sobriety – but I don’t understand how anyone in her inner circle could be surprised that she’s gone today.

Amy is a tough film, but it’s an essential one. It manages to provide a condemning narrative without coming across as biased. Kapadia doesn’t inject his own opinion into the film much, but allows real footage and interviews to tell the story for him. Amy is a sad and tragic, difficult watch, but after you see it, you can put on Back To Black and remember that this wonderful musician has left her mark on this world forever.

Replay Value: Definitely won’t be something you want to watch over and over – and maybe once will be enough.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: I like its chances for Best Documentary.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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