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Asif Kapadia’s documentary on late British singer Amy Winehouse is undoubtedly, as many have described, a heartbreaking film. But most importantly, it’s a film that brings Amy back, if only for a while, to let us hear her story in her own words.

Movie Review: Asif Kapadia’s ‘Amy’ – Heartbreaking and Compelling Self-portrait

"Amy"
‘Amy’

Amy Winehouse’s tragic death in 2011 came as a sort of predicted tragedy; the singer, who had a long story of drugs and alcohol, tried to overcome her addiction shortly before her death, with the help of close friends. From Amy herself, we hear how she indulged in crack cocaine, and later heroin, in the company of her husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who was undeniably the catalyst of her fall into substance abuse.

Amy puts into evidence that Winehouse’s parents weren’t completely there for her, or at least not in a timely manner, denying to everyone, and possibly even themselves, that Amy had a serious problem. Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father, who clearly states at one point in the film that his daughter didn’t have a problem with alcohol, refused to acknowledge that Amy desperately needed to go to into treatment, in order to get herself clean.

Winehouse, in an interview with The Guardian, angrily declared that in the film, his words had been taken out of context. “In the film, I’m relating the story, and what I said was that she didn’t need to go to rehab at that time.” Winehouse said. Amy, who worshipped the father that had been absent for the most part in her life, took his words to heart, defiantly composing the hit song “Rehab” as a sort of rebellious retaliation in response to whomever thought she needed professional help. Furthermore, he went on to say that the filmmakers “were a disgrace” and “you had the opportunity to make a wonderful film and you made this.” Furthermore, that he had been “unfairly portrayed” in Kapadia’s documentary, that it unjustly made him appear like he had done nothing to help his daughter.

But in fact, it isn’t Kapadia, or his film for that matter that says this; it’s Amy herself, accusing her father multiple times about caring more for a contract, or his own reality show than he did for her own well-being. At one point in the film, Amy is vacationing on an island off the Caribbean, and her father surprisingly shows up with a camera, which visibly upset his Amy. Clearly against her will, she allows herself be photographed by fans just to please her father. If anything, Amy gives many people in her life shared responsibility for her untimely death: her husband, the paparazzi, and even herself share great part of the blame. Winehouse, despite her bubbling exterior, was in reality a fragile and vulnerable girl, who needed to be in a certain way, treated with a bit of “tough love,” so she could finally get a sense of control over her own life.

Sadly, the film stands as evidence of the many people that failed her, just as much as she failed herself; Amy wasn’t ready for the media frenzy that accompanied her fame, and even less ready to be thrown into the public eye as fiercely as she was. At one point in the film, she states that she doesn’t think she will ever be “at all famous,” and even if she were, “she would probably go mad”; an unsettling omen of sorts, which confirms that Amy was very aware of her frailty, certainly much more than the people around her were.

Most of the scenes in Kapadia’s film are home videos of Amy with her friends, or in the recording studio, or behind-the-scenes footage of her concerts. She is on camera most of the time, talking about her music, her exceptional love for Fielder-Civil, for whom she declares a love so profound that, in her own words, “is worth dying for.” To see Winehouse on the screen is at times gut-wrenching; from her initial vitality and vivaciousness, to the emaciated, mascara streaked, lost person she became at the high point of her addiction, it’s all in her words. Recurrently, we wish that someone had perhaps extended more than a hand, taken her against her will to a clinic, or resolutely had saved her from herself. But in the end, Amy was her own worst enemy, hell-bent on accelerating her own decline, and the film documents every single step into that abyss.

Additionally, Kapadia’s Amy focuses on Winehouse’s music, her unequivocal talent for poetry and songwriting, the shocking similarity of her voice to jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, which was evident even at the young age of 14, when Winehouse blares out the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” at a friend’s party, her voice rising majestically above everyone else. Nothing evidences her true downward spiral as when she finds herself incapable of singing at full house concert in Belgrade, the public demanding her to perform, among boos and hollers, while Winehouse, visibly drunk, stands in the middle of the stage, seeming unsure of why she’s even there, her eyes empty, her glance, lost. It’s clear that her inability to sing was a telltale sign of her teetering on the edge.

Amy faults no one in particular, but it doesn’t exonerate anybody either. Her death lays on many hands; her parents, her ex-husband, the paparazzi, the scandal-hungry media, and even Winehouse herself. Yes, the film is heartbreaking and jarring, but it’s much more than that; Amy is the self-portrait of a girl, who loved jazz, who idolized Tony Bennett as much as she idolized her father, and who solely dreamed of performing her songs. Fame was the backlash of her love for music, and un-debatable talent; she was placed in the eye of the storm, which would in turn, hasten her downfall.

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About Adriana Delgado

Adriana Delgado is a freelance journalist, with published reviews on independent and foreign films in publications such as Cineaction magazine and on Artfilmfile.com. She also works as an Editorial News Assistant for the Palm Beach Daily News (A.K.A. The Shiny Sheet) and contributes with book reviews for the well-known publication, Library Journal.