Thursday, July 23, 2015
Film Review: Amy
Synopsis (courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes):
Despite just two albums to her name Amy Winehouse is one of the biggest music icons in British history. With a voice oft described as a combination of Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, Amy Winehouse was a pop star with soul; a once in two generational musical talent whose appeal crossed cultural and demographic boundaries. But while her music made her a star, her chaotic personal life stole headlines.
Only one word can describe Amy: devastating.
I'd even go so far as to say that it's truly one of the most heart-wrenching music documentaries that you'll ever see. I left the theater unsure of how to feel. Essentially, it was like mourning for her all over again, having this immense sadness for a remarkably talented and musically gifted woman who left this world far too soon, and who left it so tragically, at only 27. On my way back home, I passed by the bookstore where I was those many years ago where I first heard the news of Amy's death. I remember overhearing somebody at the Borders saying to somebody else: "I just got the news that Amy Winehouse died." And that person's response: "That's so sad, but is anybody surprised?"
While Amy was living, anybody could have predicted what would be her untimely fate. Throughout the documentary, there are chilling undertones of Amy herself predicting how she'd end up if she ever were famous. Sadly, she was right. Most of Amy does focus on this increasingly downward spiral of Amy's drug addictions, eating disorders, and alcohol abuse, but at the root of it all, it's about the one thing where Amy had a medium to express all those demons: her music. You'd be hard pressed not to smile, be touched, and smitten by Amy's voice and marvel over her gift of not only the singing, but the songwriting. These scenes of course juxtaposition alongside the romantic relationships that would inspire some of those gorgeous and personal self-penned lyrics. The documentary also jumps back and forth from that to her upbringing as a rebellious child who struggled with depression, the eating disorder, and coming to grips with her parent's being flawed, captured in nostalgic and endearing home videos. Against those odds, despite all of Amy's troubles, it's pretty incredible how Amy was clearly one of those talents who was born to do what she'd end up doing, being a jazz singer, and nothing else. Even by jazz standards, she exceeded all expectations, being compared to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington. Those are pretty big shoes to fill, and Amy was a natural. Not only that, but what a personality, what a character! Troubled, yes, and as she'd often say throughout the documentary, "I'm messed up in the head." Her art imitated her life and vice versa, which is why Amy's music did ring so true and why the world loved her. She was so human, yes her voice was otherworldly, but this was someone who was refreshingly real. But that came with a price.
Amy is not for the faint of heart. While it is about the lady and her music, watching this documentary is very much like watching a ticking bomb ready to explode at any time. We see her at her worst, at the worst state that a person could possibly be when hitting rock bottom. That was how it was in real life, which makes it more chilling and pretty frightening that all this happened to someone who was far too vulnerable, who needed so much help, who had many opportunities to get help, who tried, and could have succeeded, but...sadly, we will never know what Amy would have become if she survived. As an Amy Winehouse fan, this film will break your heart. Even if you aren't or weren't a fan, it will make you angry, and wonder, whose to blame? Amy's father, Mitch? The drugs and alcohol alone? The media and paparazzi? The world who essentially got every piece of her until she was nothing left? Or is it only Amy to blame for her downfall? We will just never know. The documentary won't answer those questions. It's not bias at all, not pointing the blame at anyone. If anything, it's only giving us the raw reality of what was Amy Winehouse's world. Amy is as honest and controversial as she was, showing us just about everything that we already knew, as well as some things that we never saw before until now. It's all oh so painful, bittersweet, and terribly sad. We lost a tremendous talent and one unique person. I can only hope that Amy, wherever she is, that her soul is resting in peace.