We all feel like we know the story of Amy Winehouse. She was a talented musician who, unfortunately, was also a junkie. People called her trash, washed up and her struggles with drugs, alcohol and bulimia became a joke to comedians and the media. There is much more to her story than what was in the newspaper and director Asif Kapadia uses compassion and his remarkable instinct for storytelling to turn what could have been a “ho-hum, I already know the end of this” into a gripping, touching film about a tortured soul who just wanted to be loved. There have been rumbles of complaints that 4 years after her death is too soon to make a biopic about Amy, but Kapadia utilizes an unprecedented collection of interviews, concert footage, news clips and videos that may have been difficult to obtain if more years had passed.
Besides the trick of making a well know story new, Kapadia also had to find a way to be impartial while unraveling Amy’s story. There were many villains in Amy’s life. Her mother laughed when Amy confessed that she was bulimic, her dad told her and her manager that she didn’t need to go to rehab (which became her biggest hit), even her final promoter ignored her cries for a break. Amy’s family has railed against the film claiming that it isn’t fair to them. The mix of interviews, writings by Amy and video clips show the viewer that the film makers are being fair.
Winehouse grew up in a home of modest means and when her parents divorced she suffered the first real shift in her personality. In an interview in the film Amy says that their divorce marked her first rebellions which would last and increase throughout her life. Two main themes are repeated throughout the film: Amy didn’t want her fame and would rather be singing on a small jazz stage, and if anyone had loved her enough to teach her to set boundaries she would still be alive.
Amy’s greatest love, Blake Civil-Fielder, was the person who introduced her to hard drugs and was Amy’s inspiration for her Grammy winning album Back in Black. Some of the intimate film clips of them show her desperation to be loved. He became one of her addictions and she could never got enough of him.
The editing is slick and clean, the music becomes more enriching for viewers as the lyrics appear on the screen, aiding those who aren’t familiar with them. Amy herself becomes alive for the viewer. Her sharp wit, impatience and charisma are ill matched with her vulnerability, addictive personality and lack of control. Viewers witness the development of Amy’s vocal style and her fashion style. She brought back the pin-up girl look with a beehive hairdo and swishy dress. One of the only questions that remains after seeing the film is in regards to her tattoos. For the first section of the film she has only one visible tattoo and then all of sudden she is covered with them. Every tattoo has a story and I’m guessing that the nude pin-up on her arm with a horseshoe that says “Daddy’s Girl” had some kind of story to go along with it.
The choice to the tell the story in chronological order strengthens the audience’s relationship with the subjects. We regret some of her errors right along with her. We wish her friends could have said more, that she had seen Blake for the loser that he is, that she could have fought harder for a healing break. Unfortunately the film ends as it must, with her death of alcohol poisoning. There was only so much abuse that her 5 foot 3 frame could handle. At age 27 Amy’s story was over. Thankfully Asif Kapadia had the inspiration to dig deeper and give the world a non-censored view of her life for the world to see, learn from and mourn over.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Release date: July 3, 2015 (NY & LA), July 10, 2015 (Nationwide)
Directed By: Asif Kapadia
Produced By:James Gay-Rees
Running Time: 128 minutes
Rating: R for language and drug material