“Amy” is an innovative documentary about the rise and tragic fall of singer Amy Winehouse. It provides both sad insights into her troubles and joyous music celebrating her immense talents.
Is it dateworthy? Definitely.
Amy Winehouse’s entire life was a cautionary tale. A British singer who came blasting out of nowhere at the age of 21 with her 2003 debut album “Frank,” she instantly won acclaim and popularity in her homeland, and built on that with the international smash hit “Rehab” three years later.
But this vibrant, unique young woman with a cheeky sense of humor and a voice that could rival some of the greatest soul and jazz singers of all time achieved that fame through a tune that mocked the very treatment she needed to break free from intense addictions to booze and drugs. As she wagged her finger and coyly scoffed at the camera in her video for that song and in her countless TV appearances singing it, the world responded with a fascination reserved for watching aberrant behaviors and train wrecks alike.
The more Winehouse sang and said that she didn’t have an addiction, the further she spiraled into the disease. And the more money music fans and record labels gave her, the more she sowed the seeds of her own destruction, with the world media egging her on the entire way.
When she died in 2009 at the tender age of 27, she joined other rock and pop icons that died at the same age ranging from Kurt Cobain to Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin. Her tragedy made no sense – that is, until now.
The fascinating and tragic new documentary “Amy” illuminates what happened to her, using an impressive array of video footage and voiceover interviews from people in seemingly every corner of her life: her parents, friends, ex-husband, and the music managers and executives. The filmmaker behind it all is Asif Kapadia, who previously made a splash with the 2012 documentary “Senna,” in which he tracked the impressive career and ultimately tragic end of world-class race driver Ayrton Senna using a similar non-stop barrage of video footage in lieu of traditional talking heads.
The effect of both movies’ stylistic approach is to draw viewers fully into the world and mindset of their subjects, eliminating the cold distance felt in most documentaries. Yet while “Senna” had some truly exciting footage of the Formula One world of racing, “Amy” surpasses it with a vast array of deeply personal moments that offer heartbreaking insight into what drove Winehouse’s artistry and ultimately, her self-destructiveness.
She was clearly ahead of her time, both as an artist and as a human being, often stating “life is short” to rationalize her quest for thrills and her dangerous relationship with Fielder, who eventually introduced her to a horrifying addiction to crack cocaine. If only she knew just how short her life would actually be, perhaps she would have slowed down and cried for help.
Instead, she scoffed at the idea of rehab, even in her biggest hit song. and people around the world cheered her on as both an entertainer and as ghoulish entertainment – obsessively reading and watching tabloid coverage of her every move, dancing all the way to her grave.
Is There Any Inappropriate Material For a Date?
Despite its potentially lurid subject matter, “Amy” was crafted with as much taste as possible. There is only a smattering of foul language overheard throughout the film, with about 5 to 10 F words in more than two hours of running time and nothing else noticeable. Some of her lyrics reflect a casual attitude towards adultery and promiscuity, but she manages to write those with inventiveness and humor, rather than the base and directly sexual lyrics found in much of today’s pop music.
Winehouse is seen canoodling and groping with her boyfriend-turned-husband Fielder at several points in the film, but no actual sex or nudity is shown. The most harrowing images of the film concern her drug abuse, with a couple of photos showing her with crack vials and several videos of her looking disoriented in interviews and even onstage, but again these are shown with maximum restraint, giving viewers just enough to realize the depths to which she had fallen without exploiting her.
What shines through throughout is that Winehouse was never raised with a proper sense of God and traditional values in her life. Her parents betrayed her by being neglectful when she was a child, and told her she was fine when she asked if she needed help for bulimia and her addictions as an adult. What also shines through, however, is a stunning voice, clever lyrics and snappy music – even if you’re not a fan, you can see this film and come away with an appreciation for talent lost and an urgent need to buy her two CDs up at once.
Both a celebration of her musical genius and a tragic recounting of her loss as a person, “Amy” is a powerful and compelling view. But more importantly, it’s a sonically soaring primer about an incredible voice that will hopefully never be silenced completely.