Friday, July 10, 2015

AMY Review - Javi's Take

Director: Asif Kapadia.
Cast: Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Blake Fielder-Civil, Pete Doherty. 

Opens at: Wide.

In the Comedy Central show BROAD CITY, the character Lincoln (played by Hannibal Burress) at one point says, "Y'know, I'm not over Amy Winehouse. It's like... We knew it would happen, but we didn't do anything about it. I didn't know-her-know-her... but I still miss her."
The moment comes out of nowhere in that show, and it isn't played for laughs. It just kind of lingers.
That says something, I think, about the way many Amy Winehouse fans look back at the singer's tragic death in 2011, the result of a heart failure related to her struggles with alcoholism. They still have questions. They're still somber.
The new documentary AMY, much to its credit, fully acknowledges all of this as it looks back at Winehouse's time in the spotlight with home videos, performance footage, rare photographs, and a collection of both new and old interviews with her friends, family and work acquaintances.
It's outstanding, really, the amount of access that director Asif Kapadia is given here. Thanks to footage shot by Winehouse's first manager, Nick Shymansky, we see firsthand how old a soul she was by age 19, and also what a funny and lively person she truly was. Dominating the early portion of the film, this footage is undeniable in that it highlights Winehose as so damn charming and talented, that it's no wonder she became so famous.
The second half of the movie is of course far less joyous, focusing on the singer's rather public and tragic descent into drug abuse. Kapadia's narrative as the film's director is fairly clear, implying that once Winehouse started using drugs, the people in her life who could've helped her didn't, instead often encouraging her actions. The primary culprits in the eyes of this film? Her on-and-off boyfriend and eventually husband Blake, and her father Mitch.
Blake is portrayed as a freeloader riding on Winehouse's coattails at the peak of her fame, a man who successfully prevents her from finishing her stints in rehab even while serving as the inspiration for many of the songs in her masterpiece album, Back to Black.

Then you have her father, a slimy-looking guy to begin with, who really seems to be the root of everything. He was an unfaithful husband to Winehouse's mother, and he was seemingly an absent father until his daughter's career took off, at which point he was all too happy to join in on the fame-grab. At one point, Amy shows Mitch following his daughter on a rehab trip to a remote island, cameras in tow as he seeks footage for his own reality TV show.

For as manipulative as Amy makes these men out to be, though, the film itself is obviously edited fairly manipulatively in its own right. And that's something of a problem. There's no question that Mitch and Blake were scumbags -- a simple online search can prove that -- but this direction feels somewhat reductive given the very complex issues of depression and addiction, not to mention the difficulties of celebrity, fame and media attention. To boil Winehouse's demise down to a few instigators feels a bit wrong.

That glaring issue aside, the movie is still a must-see for most any music fan. Betwen rare audio cuts and intimate recording-session video clips, AMY provides an up-close look into the creative process. More important, it gives audiences an inside glimpse into the tragic life of a talented and charming woman who passed away too soon.

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