Amy

A haunting and heavily personal account of Amy Winehouse.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,037

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A24
Documentary
2 hours, 8 minutes
Rated R (language and drug material)
Released July 3, 2015
Directed by Asif Kapadia

Asif Kabadia’s “Amy” puts us in the perspective of the titular character: the late Amy Winehouse. This isn’t your conventional rise-and-fall music documentary. It certainly starts out that way, but gradually, the film develops into something dynamic and haunting that instead shows the rise as the source of the fall. Amy’s rise to fame happened quickly. Her passion wasn’t for the music of today; rather, she wanted to emulate an older, better, jazzier sound. It’s a miracle that she grew to such recognition for such an unconventional sound; “Amy” reminds us that not all miracles are good miracles. After winning a Grammy for her first album, Amy faced overwhelming pressure from her newfound fans, and lack of inspiration to write a new album. She began to suffer depression, and the rest is history.

In no way does the film glamorize the life of Amy Winehouse. In fact, what makes “Amy” so heartbreaking, in the end, is that it depicts the titular character as both the artist that we idolize and the person no different from any of us. We’re treated to Amy’s talent from the very beginning. The film opens with her performance of “Moon River” with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. She’s only 16, and she’s already blown Audrey Hepburn’s version out of the water. Her voice is absolutely magnificent, and hearing it play on a surround sound system is an enveloping, atmospheric experience. At the same time, it’s an intensely personal approach to the subject matter. Yes, we see her as an artist, but we’re also motivated to understand her as a person through her sense of humor and her uncompromising, yet familiar and likable, personality. Nearly three-quarters of the film sees her life in its most private setting, a fact that grows markedly disturbing as home videos are gradually replaced by strings of paparazzi photos. You start more and more to dread the fact that simply by watching the film, you’re invading the artist’s privacy.

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