This booze ‘n’ drugs documentary about British songwriter/vocalist Amy Winehouse rises above the ordinary in the capable hands of Asif Kapadia, who previously scored with his 2011 cinematic portrait of Brazilian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna. Long before winning six Grammys and acquiring her signature beehive, tattoos and Cleopatra-like eyeliner wings, Amy grew up, as one pal puts it, “like a classic North London Jewish girl with lots of attitude.” Read on…
But the telltale signs were there, including teenage bulimia and depression, perhaps beginning after her domineering father, Mitch, left her mother, Janis, to live with another woman when Amy was nine.
In her early years as a musician, Amy was fortunate to have her first manager Nick Shymansky and two girl-friends – Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert – who stuck by her until her sassy self-destructiveness drove them away. Then came her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, a junkie who introduced her to heroin and crack-cocaine.
Fearless in front of an audience, cheeky Amy was terrified of only one thing: fame.
“I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous,” she declared in a radio interview when she was 20. “I don’t think I can handle it. I’d probably go mad.”
Five years later, she wrote and performed the powerfully personal “Rehab” about her refusal to enter a drug rehabilitation facility. In July, 2011, Amy died of alcohol toxicity at age 27.
“Life teaches you how to live it, if you’re lucky enough to live that long,” concludes Tony Bennett, one of Amy’s childhood idols, who collaborated on a “Body and Soul” duet with her a few month before she died.
Utilizing early home movies and contemporary newsreel footage, overlaid with previously recorded audio interviews, director Asif Kapadia and editor Chris King chronicle her decline and degradation.
But Mitch Winehouse maintains that this bleak bio-pic not only misrepresents his daughter’s life but also his part in it. FYI: he figures prominently in the lyrics of “Rehab,” telling her that she’s “fine” without it.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Amy” is a disturbing, disconcerting 7, following this talented pop idol on her deadly downward spiral.