“Amy” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux



I’m sure that this happens to a lot of people: You hear of someone in the public eye, you probably have heard a song or two playing on the radio. Maybe, this person even becomes a global phenomenon? Then you hear about rampant drug and alcohol abuse by this artist and eventually their star fades somewhat. Before you know it, you hear about this person’s death. It wasn’t surprising to you, because the individual’s habits over the preceding years were demonized in the media. A few years have now passed and you get an opportunity to revisit this person’s life, firsthand. Of course, I’m referring to the late singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse and this terrific documentary by Asif Kapadia (2010’s critically-acclaimed “Senna”). What “Amy” manages to do is to put not only a proverbial “face” onto a much-derided individual, but rather a “soul” that we get the honor to view and see what a tragic loss to which her death really amounted.


It all began in London, where a teenage girl first fell in love with jazz music. Like her idols before her; Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse had a one-in-a-million vocal presence that was born to bring the house down. She was a natural and could effortlessly project her passion onto an audience. After the release of 2003’s “Frank,” she became a rising star who gradually nurtured fame with the help of an excellent manager, Nick Shymanksy. Up until this time, she appeared to be a truly happy and contented human being. Sadly she began to rely less on friends from her childhood and became smitten with a drug-addict named Blake Fielder. A man, who was quick to love and leave Amy after her first album, was even faster when he re-entered her life and took her to the altar, just in time for her second album, the multi-platinum “Back to Black,” which was blowing up the charts in 2006.

Amy Winehouse

Unfortunately, Amy was no stranger to men reappearing in her life. Her father Mitch, who wasn’t there for her formative years, became inseparable from her when the money started rolling in. In fact, he was so accustomed to the “gravy train” that he infamously quipped that his daughter did not need to attend a rehab facility, even after it became apparent that her drug exploits with Blake were taking a major toll on her career, and most importantly her health. So when you heard about them trying “to make her go to rehab and she said “no, no, no,” she was merely expressing artistic liberty with the title and lyrics of her hit song. There was little truth to this statement as no person in her inner-circle actually made an attempt to get her the help that she so gravely needed. Sadly, the latter part of her life was filled with enablers who had little or no interest in getting Amy clean.

Before long, with her manager gone and Blake, once he inflicted enough damage upon her, she finally did attend a detox facility (and not a country club hand-picked by her father). However, it wasn’t long before her poison of choice switched from hard drugs to alcohol. A new entourage followed with Mitch at the helm, pushing towards the next paycheck and dragging Amy further into oblivion, until finally on July 23, 2011, Amy Winehouse died with a blood alcohol level that was 45 times the legal limit.


“Amy” is a fascinating, albeit both heartbreaking and horrifying, account of the singer’s life, which ultimately spiraled out of control. But all is not dark; one of the most poignant and uplifting scenes in the film comes during the recording session for Tony Bennett’s “Duets II” album shortly before her death. Winehouse, no doubt nervous at the reality of singing with one of her idols, falters through a couple of takes. Does it bother Tony? Not in the least. This class act of a person offers her sweet words of encouragement, praising her vocals until she delivers a knockout performance. It turned out to be her final recording, which posthumously earned Winehouse and Bennett a Grammy for Best Pop/Duo Performance.


With that being said, this is a must-see for fans of the late singer, or just music lovers in general. From her early days belting out jazz standards in East London nightclubs to her triumphant evening at the 2008 Grammy Awards, where it’s safe to say that she owned the telecast, to the infamous (non)performance at the Isle of Wight festival where she was booed off of the stage in the very same year, “Amy” vividly paints a portrait of an immensely talented singer/songwriter who could not handle fame, plain and simple. It forced her to seek solace in the company of people who used her and flung her into a pitfall of drugs and alcohol. As a result, she died before the world fully realized the unbridled talent of Amy Winehouse.

***1/2 (three and a half out of four stars)


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