Alex Reviews Amy - A Great-But-Flawed Look At A Great-But-Flawed Woman

The Winehouse-doc captivates, but isn’t without its issues.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… The one film I really wanted to see at Cannes this year that I didn€™t get to catch was Amy, Asif Kapadia€™s follow-up to Senna taking an in-depth, headline-grabbingly personal look into the life of Amy Winehouse. Aside from The Sea Of Trees' booing it was one of the hottest topics around the Palais. Thankfully, it€™s one of the first films that played the festival (albeit in this case Out of Competition) to hit screens, and lives up to the hype (just about). Even if you don€™t know much about the personal life of Amy Winehouse beyond the jokes everybody made in the late-naughties (a trend that gets beaten down by the film) and the media blitz surrounding her death in 2011, it doesn€™t matter. The film charts her life from outwardly happy teen to tortured pop icon with an eye to unearthing the unknown personal side for both long-term fans and music greenhorns alike. There€™ll probably never be a biopic of Winehouse made, simply because what€™s here is so unwaveringly comprehensive (and that is definitely a good thing). Amy herself is only one half of the story though. As much as the focus is on talent and the psychological problems that come with/play a key role in it, the film doubles as a harrowingly contemporary attack on the way our society treats celebrity - as Winehouse's star rose, so too did the press hounding, dissecting every line of coke and tumble off the wagon. The trashy mags have always felt cheap, but viewing their impact from the inside is frankly sickening.
Like Senna, the film is made up almost entirely of existing footage (this time much more of a mixture of personal and archive) with the talking heads thoughts delivered entirely by voice-over (so expect Kapadia to once again be absent from the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary). It€™s a trick we know works, getting you into the subject's world and time period. Seemingly to mix things up, the director tries to bring some new flourishes to the party. Some of these work - to represent Amy€™s increasingly fame, there€™s more and more camera flashes, with some sequences seemingly made from stitching multiple paparazzi shots together stop-motion style (to haunting effect) - and some really don€™t. Lyrics to Winehouse€™s songs pop up while they€™re being sung, an irritating choice that distracts from the wondrous voice and is rather superfluous in its focus on her personally-wrought writing. The subtitles to regaulr conversations suggest it was done for clarity purposes, but at no point did I struggle to hear what was being said.
There€™s been some claims in the mainstream press that Kapadia is getting a little bit ahead of himself, telling a story instead of representing the real one. In particular, much has been made of Amy€™s relationship with her Dad (he left her Mum when their daughter was nine, something he thinks didn€™t impact her, but the film, and the singer herself, begs to differ). It's somewhat inevitable, but the film does have several moments of implied villainy that point the finger of blame vicariously at several involved, which would be a problem if the film didn€™t otherwise feel so whole in its estimation of its subject. In the end, everything is tied together in a sobering manner (you will cry at Tony Bennet€™s parting words), bar one key element. A big point is made early on that Amy was a stickler for authenticity, hating having instruments added to her songs in post and a big fan of writing her own lyrics. The ultimate summary of her career trajectory, then, is that her most enduring hit is a cover of The Zuton€™s Valerie. The film doesn€™t seem to pick up on this, even putting the song over the end credits, which to me feels like a missed opportunity. Although all it would really be doing would be adding another layer sadness to what is an already emotionally-wrought film. What did you make of Amy? Share your thoughts down in the comments.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.

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