Synopsis: The story of Amy Winehouse in her own words, featuring unseen archival footage and unheard tracks.
Stars: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Blake Fielder-Civil
Director: Asif Kapadia
Running Length: 128 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: When Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the age of 27 I, along with the rest of the world, mourned the loss of a talented artist taken before her time. At the same time, I couldn’t shake the belief that the singer’s much publicized struggles with drugs and alcohol had led to her demise and this was a case of Winehouse making her bed and then lying in it. I cringe at that callousness now, especially after seeing Amy, the new documentary on Winehouse’s rise to fame and the ultimate price she paid for the life she led.
I was late to the Winehouse game so by the time the singer was nearing her end I was just coming into the appreciation for her talent as a songwriter and her haunting vocals. This was a singer that knew real pain and could express through music and lyrics the way she was feeling in a way that few artists can truly tap into. Her addiction to booze, hard drugs, and various men in her life that didn’t have her best interest at heart produced prodigious music but also great pain.
Director Asif Kapadia has compiled a strong documentary from voiceover interviews, home movies, private videos, and television clips to piece together how Winehouse first made it big and what contributed to her dying before she was 30. Winehouse’s family have distanced themselves from the finished film and it’s no shocker why because Kapadia’s narrative clearly implicates some complicity by those closest to Amy. Her father especially gets the brunt of it as the film shows him cozying up to his daughter like a friend rather than a parental figure. We can’t know truly how much her family tried to help her with her vices, but Kapadia’s film indicates they could have done more.
Even without the outside factors that infiltrated her system, it’s clear that Winehouse battled other demons throughout her short life. Eating disorders, low self-esteem, and an obsession with perfection were only heightened when under the influence of narcotics. She idolized jazz singer Tony Bennett and in one harrowing sequence she gets the opportunity to record a duet with him and nearly blows it when she can’t figure out how to deliver her vocal track. This and other sound booth videos show a vulnerability to Winehouse that makes it even more difficult to know where her life ended.
When she died, Winehouse joined the infamous 27 Club with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison…all musicians that passed away at 27. We won’t ever know what she could have done with her talent but in those few short years she burned, she burned bright and left behind an all-too brief legacy of her artistry and a cautionary tale of a life led by excess.