AMY – A Review by John Strange

By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
Cast: Amy Winehouse (archive footage)
MPAA Rating: R (for language and drug material)
Selig Rating: FULL PRICE
Runtime: 128 Min.
Amy Winehouse was a true talent.  As a young girl growing up in London, she loved to sing.  At 16, she was talked into making a demo by her friends and a young man, Nick Shymansky.  Nick became her manager even though he was too young to have any real experience at it.  Despite this, Amy’s career took off and did well.
Amy had to be convinced that the poems she was constantly writing to help her work out her personal problems would make great lyrics for songs.  These lyrics bring her fans from around the world.  They also bring her awards.  These awards are the beginning of her downfall.
How can that be?  That is what this documentary by director Asif Kapadia attempts to help us discover.  He begins with a video collage of images of her early years as she spent time and partied with her friends. 
The story then cuts to the car with Amy and her friends riding with Nick to her first recording session.  From her first recording session on, we get to see Amy doing what she loved, singing jazz.  Singing her songs; songs that still speak to people of all ages.
We see her life change when she gets her first recording contract and its half million pound advance.  First she moves into a new flat with her girlfriend.  There they can do whatever they want, even smoke all of the weed they might want.
Amy’s life is shown to us using clips taken from the personal videos of the folks around her, concert and award show footage and interviews with those same friends.  We see the story of a young girl who just wants to be loved.  We watch her career gain momentum.  While she grows in status in the industry, her need for love and acceptance from those closest to her is shown to us one story at a time culminating in her descent into drugs at the hands of her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.
Watching her slowly unravel in the public’s eye was painful.  The people who should have been there for her were constantly justifying their actions by saying that they had to let her make the final decisions for herself.  Even more painful was watching her go through multiple rehab sessions without truly shucking off the yoke of addiction.
Her lyrics grew increasingly dark as they reflected where her life was going.  Curiously, these lyrics brought more and more acclaim which accelerated the process of her downfall.  She had periods after rehab stints where she was relatively clean.  As time went by she began to use alcohol as a substitute for the drugs she craved.  It broke my heart to hear that she told one of her friends that life without drugs was boring.
Amy’s life was a lesson to all of us.  She had so much talent.  Her dependence on her husband was so extreme that when he accidentally cut himself during a drinking binge following their joint stint in rehab, Amy took the broken glass and cut her own arm so they could be alike.  When the police raided their apartment, Blake went to prison for drug possession leaving Amy without him and his strength.
The videos from the final few years of her life were filled with scenes that brought tears to my eyes.  Her life was anything but happy though there were times like her days in Saint Lucia where she found a little bit of peace. 
Sadly, the drugs and alcohol binges had damaged her health.  She lost her life to alcohol poisoning on July 23. 2011.  Her death at such a young age was a tragedy.  Director Asif Kapadia has done an excellent job of blending the video footage and interviews into an emotional look at her life.  I didn’t know much about her prior to watching this film.  Listening to her songs used in the film gave me a look into her feelings about life.  I am now a fan of her work.  I have to admit I am a bit glad that I didn’t follow her career when she was alive.  It was hard enough watching her implode on the screen. Watching it in real time would have devastated me.
This film is a great film about a talented subject.  It will remind fans of just how good she was.  For people like me, who didn’t know her, the film will open their eyes and make fans.  Bring a handkerchief or grab some napkins on your way into the auditorium.  You’ll need them.
Movie Site:
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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