“Amy” is a look at the life of troubled artist Amy Winehouse, from the early days to her downfall into drugs, alcohol, and her eventual death at the young age of 27.
I did not know a lot about Winehouse before going into this movie. I thought that she was just another artist who couldn’t handle the rockstar life style. But director Asif Kapadia has given us a much deeper story than that.
The first part of the movie, we see Amy growing up and rising to the singer she will become. We see a young girl with a glow in her eye, having fun with her friends, and living life to the fullest as she does what she loves the most in singing. However, it isn’t all fun and games for young Amy, as we learn her home life is less than perfect. Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, left Amy and her mother Janice when Amy was just nine years old. This left Janice to raise the outgoing and high tempered Amy by herself, which was the beginning of Amy’s rebellious ways as Janice was unable to control her daughter. In one of the many sound bites of Winehouse, Amy says, “You should be tougher mum, you’re not strong enough to say stop.”
Once Amy gets a little bit of fame, it’s the beginning of the end, as her life begins to spiral out of control. She starts dating Blake Fielder, to whom Amy was married to from 2007 – 2009, as he introduces her into the world of drugs that took over the last part of Amy’s life.
She makes her Grammy winning “Back to Black” album, which features the all too real hit “Rehab.” She has her struggles with the paparazzi and being a tabloid headline, when all she wanted to do was make music. It is this last half of the film that is a series of sucker punches to the gut.
Kapadia does an incredible job using the combination of voice overs, music, and found footage to capture Amy’s tragic story. The voice overs are interviews with the people who knew Amy best, like her first manager Nick Shymansky, her childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, as well as Fielder, her father, who shows up later in her life when she becomes big, and some of her music producers. They are a combination of emotional, anger-inducing, and insightful. We also hear Amy talk, which is as chilling as if we are hearing a ghost.
The found footage is so personal and intimate. We see some unreal musical performances and times when Amy seems to be as happy as ever. But, we also see the bad. We feel the anxiety of the paparazzi attacking Amy, we see her drug use and the physical and mental downfall of her career.
Specific scenes and shots, like the selfies of a drugged up, skeletal Winehouse from her computer or her Record of the Year win when everyone in the room is celebrating and Amy tells one of her close friends, “this is so boring without drugs,” are shocking and stay with you long after the viewing. It is remarkable and tragic to watch.
Kapadia also keeps the film ambiguous into the inevitable. Who was to blame for Amy’s demise? Was it her parents? Her mother let her be rebellious young and her father, even when he came back into her life, was not the father figure she needed, as he cared more about her stardom than her health. Was it Fielder, who introduced Amy to drugs? Was it her friends, who didn’t speak up louder? Or was it Winehouse? Was she a ticking time bomb waiting to explode or could she have been saved? That is left for us to decide.
2015 has been a great year for documentaries, with films like “The Wolfpack”, “The Nightmare”, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”, and “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”. But “Amy” is the crowning achievement of them all. It is as powerful and personal of a documentary I have ever seen. It is one of the best movies of 2015.
My Rating – 4/4
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Image courtesy of YouTube via A24