Amy Review

The Plot:

A comprehensive documentary exploring the rise and tragically fatal fall of musical sensation Amy Winehouse, featuring intimate home videos and in-depth interviews with those closest to the notorious British singer.

The Good:

BAFTA winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia has impeccable credentials as a documentarian. His 2012 Ayrton Senna documentary skilfully assembled a mesmerising portrait of the flamboyant racing star’s life and tragically early death from a rich tapestry of archival footage.  With Amy he adopts a similar approach to exploring the life and death of a very different pop culture icon, singer Amy Winehouse.

Largely assembled from previously unseen home movies shot by her friends, manager and family the film follows Winehouse from being discovered as a teenager with a surprisingly soulful voice to her untimely death at just 27. It combines these intimate moments with carefully inserted commentary from those closest to the singer. This emotional testimony is both painfully candid and increasingly poignant as the film progresses towards its inevitably sombre conclusion.

It’s perhaps surprising that for a celebrity figure already so massively overexposed by invasive tabloid, tv and paparazzi coverage that the film is able to present audiences with any genuine sense of previously unseen intimacy.  In particular the early footage of the star as a 16 year old Jazz obsessed but otherwise ordinary teenager, may add a different perspective for some to the tragic public caricature she became.

The film charts her explosive career as in just a handful of year’s and two albums she went from being an unknown soulful voice to one of the most acclaimed and recognisable singers on the planet. At the same time the film confronts the sad toll her personal demons and substance abuse took on her mind and body.

The film explores the stark juxtaposition between lucrative musical success and the painfully obvious self-destructiveness that accompanied it. Though it may be a sadly familiar tale of seemingly cliché rock and roll excess, it’s interesting to see such a detailed personal narrative of the experience.

The Bad:

Though undeniably impeccably well-crafted as a documentary, Amy is perhaps unlikely to radically alter pre-existing perceptions of the singer and her tragically early demise.

The film adequately documents the progression of the young singer’s seemingly evident emotional issues into a downward spiral of self-destructive addiction, fuelled at least in part by the pressures of relentless public scrutiny. However the film doesn’t really ever offer any great revelations of insight into the reasons for this tragic trajectory.

The Winehouse family and particularly Amy’s father Mitch have subsequently disowned the documentary, partly due to its clear assertion that his infidelity and absence during her formative years was a key factor in her depression, eating disorder and substance abuse.  The singer literally says as much in her own words. The wider accusation that her family and drug addict husband contributed to and then perhaps even greedily avoided dealing with her chronic problems clearly wasn’t appreciated either. Even if true this isn’t a particularly subtle or shocking revelation.

Likewise the film draws casual attention to Amy’s openly self-professed reluctance to be famous and the inevitable impact that constant media coverage had on her crumbling physical and mental state.

The film takes a generally sympathetic tone towards its troubled subject, but audiences may not necessarily share that sentiment.  For those who celebrate Winehouse for her vocal talent and brash personality there will be others who find those abrasive qualities more obnoxious and have far less sympathy for her self-destructive behaviour.  Some will undoubtedly still see the singer as someone who selfishly squandered her gifts, good fortune and remarkable opportunities.

The Ugly Truth:

For fans of the British singer and anyone somehow unfamiliar with her life and musical achievements this expertly crafted documentary will provide a sincere tribute and comprehensive account. Anyone already less enthusiastic about her music or unsympathetic to her personal problems may find this less compelling viewing.

Review by Russell Nelson

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