Director Asif Kapadia accomplished something with Senna five years ago that I didn’t think was possible. He made a documentary about a race car driver I knew little about, that was immensely enjoyable.
With Amy, he made a documentary about a singer I loved immensely, but a documentary I was on the fence about. He gave us an unusual look at her life.
There weren’t talking heads speaking about her genius (aside from the talented Tony Bennett). Instead we got some terrific concert and archival footage, but strangely, we also felt like the paparazzi vultures this film was trying to make a statement about. It’s a statement that isn’t the least bit valid, because despite the angle this documentary plays…she was a druggy from the age of 15 (admitting she smoked pot every day), and she had parents that were complete morons. They didn’t raise her right, and only when she showed such a tremendous gift for singing did her dad pop back into her life (he’s also come out against the movie). So please, spare us the lecture on the media hounding famous people. Paul McCartney and hundreds of others do fine with paparazzi following them everywhere. There are a million struggling singers out there that would love a career making music and wouldn’t screw up their life if it were thrust upon them. Unless it’s child actors that get this rich and famous, and pushed by studios, I have little sympathy. And seriously, you can’t fault the record label “pressuring her” to make a second record, or concert promoters that want her to “sing the hits” (it’s only a year after the hit record, it’s not like she’s a 60-year-old jazz singer being asked to sing “Rehab” for the billionth time).
It’s not a spoiler alert to say that Winehouse joined the “27 club” after a night of heavy drinking. We knew this path was coming even when she was alive. She wrote extremely autobiographical songs (just listen to the lyrics of Rehab). Yet it’s painful to watch such an amazing talent spiral downhill so fast.
We live in a day and age where more of these types of documentaries might come out. You see, everyone is now taking photos and videos with their phones, so there’s going to be lots of footage of various celebrities that we haven’t seen. There was something interesting about hearing voicemail messages from Winehouse about bands she wanted to put together, or songs she was working on (QuestLove of The Roots was apparently in tears after a screening).
You’ll adore her North London accent, enthusiasm, slightly gap-toothed smile, and her naivete in the early days. It makes you wish so badly to have her father smacked in the head for hiring a reality show to follow her, or make her do things she had no interest in. Her boyfriend Blake Fielder (you thought Bobby Brown was bad), comes across as a pathetic piece of trash, but hey…she’s making the decision to do crack cocaine with him, as well as ink his name on her body. Oh, and when he cuts himself with a bottle while wasted…she does the same thing, wanting them to do literally “everything together.”
There are some very fun moments. Our hearts soar with the two times involving Tony Bennett. Her eyes get wide with excitement when she sees he’s the one that’s going to announce the winner of an award – that she wins! She’s more thrilled it’s Bennett giving out the award, not that she won. How can it not warm your heart watching a person go gaga over their idols? Yet our heart breaks when she says something to a best friend a few minutes later.
When she records a duet with Bennett, it’s just beautiful.
It’s just unfortunate that Kapadia has a narrative that he’s going with, and it makes us just voyeurs into the depths of her various addictions (which aren’t all involving chemicals). It would’ve been nice to see more of her humor, which she does display at times. The few moments involving songwriting is cool to see; yet all of that seems shoved into the melodrama of her addictions. A more intimate portrait could’ve been done if things in this were tweaked just a bit, and there wasn’t the irony of a story being told from the view of those same paparazzi and leeches that surrounded her.
There’s a clip near the end where a bodyguard tells us that she said she’d give this all back if she could walk down the street and not be bothered. It’s a powerful statement, but it’s complete bollocks. Again, she was doing drugs every day as a teenager, without parental supervision. I’m guessing the 6-time Grammy-winner would’ve gone down this same course if she never got past being a performer at small clubs and wasn’t a household name.
She may have idolized Billie Holiday, and had a voice like Holiday (better, in my opinion). It’s unfortunate she had to die like her as well. Actually, after watching this documentary, you’ll be surprised she lived as long as she did.
As a fan that bought the Back to Black CD when I first heard this amazing vocalist, it was painful to watch. It’s a tough documentary, but one worth catching; even if you aren’t a fan.
It gets 3 stars out of 5.