‘Amy’ Review: A Tough, Explicit Look At Amy Winehouse’s Tragic Life

amy-winehouse

It should be clear from the outset, but Amy is no Part of Me or This is Us. It’s not a sweetly sugar-coated look at a pop icon who really was “just like everyone else.” Amy is a tough, explicit look at one of the more truly-tortured performers of the 21st century. Even with only two studio albums, her impact on what would come for the revival of soul music – particularly as far as female voices were concerned – is something that cannot be denied.

As such, Amy is an observation of the titular woman through searing highs and crushing lows. You watch on with the utmost joy as her idol, Tony Bennett, announces he has won a Grammy while her entire band leap for joy. Just as quickly, you watch with a sunken heart as she lapses and falls time and time again into a world of painful relationships and destructive drug habits.

No-one is let off the hook – her father, Mitch, and her partner, Blake, are both bleakly honest about how they impacted on Amy’s life. The former, in particular, has been particularly outspoken about the film as of late; which, when one observes how he is portrayed, feels somewhat understandable. The father-daughter bond here is one that is laced with long-standing grudges and crutch-like dependence – Amy looks to Mitch for reassurance, Mitch to Amy for a platform which leads him to his own singing career and his own reality show. Blake, meanwhile, speaks about his relationship with Amy with a bleak, weary tone. It’s implicit that he has told these stories time and time again; and each time he traces over those irreversible mistakes seeing the exact moment where it all came falling apart.

Asif Kapadia is at the helm of Amy, who has amassed critical acclaim for his filmmaking work over the past 15-plus years. This follows from his previous film, which was coincidentally enough also a mononymic documentary, Senna, detailing the life of Brazilian race car driver Ayrton Senna. It, too, courted controversy with its depiction of a relationship between the central focus and someone close to them – in this instance, fellow racer Alain Prost – which certainly throws up in the air who it says more about: Kapadia as a filmmaker or Prost and Mr. Winehouse as people.

Whatever the case, Kapadia has spared no excess here; going through over 100 interviews and years of footage from Amy as a child right up to the last times she was ever seen in public. It is as thoroughly detailed as one would anticipate; although the use of karaoke-style text depicting her lyrics whenever a song is used could have definitely been tidied up (even a change of font would have made it feel less intrusive).

Much like the woman whose life makes up its runtime, Amy is sure to divide audiences and draw its own criticisms. Also much like the woman, however, the focus should come back – as it always should – to the music. Once she starts singing – whether it’s at a friend’s birthday or standing next to Tony Bennett – it’s all that you can see and all that you can hear.

‘Amy’ is out in Australia July 2nd and the US July 10th. You can check out the rest of the Sydney Film Festival lineup here.