At one still point in the film, Tony Bennett wisely says, “Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough.” Unfortunately, Amy Winehouse didn’t get the chance to learn this lesson, because she met her end early on at the young age of 27. The whole world knows her story. A troubled but talented girl who suffered from drug and alcohol abuse. Her substance addiction became public knowledge, and soon thereafter, she became the media’s punch line for every drug joke. However, that’s not the whole story, not even close. There was so much more to Amy Winehouse. She was a daughter, a friend, a poet, a lover, a musician. She was Amy, and director Asif Kapadia brilliantly unfolds her story like a diary for all of us to see.
Composed of raw video footage, photos, and accounts of those closest to her, we get a glimpse of who Amy Winehouse was before and after the fame and fortune. She was funny and lively and always had a passion for music. She grew up admiring all the greats: James Taylor, Carol King, and her idol, Tony Bennett. She had an exquisite ear and a legendary voice, but most of all, she was a storyteller. She didn’t write anything unless it was directly personal, and it is that aspect that makes this documentary so mesmerizing. Each song, each melody was a product of whatever she was going through in her life. Whether it was her family troubles, her addiction to drugs, or her heartache with love, she wrote it all down, wrote her life for the world to hear.
Kapadia expertly weaves together a tale of Amy’s life in conjunction with her music. We see her beam with devotion to her love and muse Blake Fielder and produce the song, “Some Unholy War,” where she vows to stand next to her man while they wait for the blow. We see her dark moments where she spirals and refuses help, and she belts out “Rehab” in defiance. Finally, in one of those most powerful and haunting scenes of the movie, we see her, heartbroken, but still spirited and cheeky, record “Back to Black” in the matter of only hours. It’s one of those goosebumps-filled moments that will strike and never leave you. What’s more is that every time Amy sings one of her songs in the film, the lyrics write themselves on the screen for us to read along just as if we were reading her diary.
This intimacy presented in the film is at moments utterly captivating, pleasing to our eyes and ears. We’re seeing the girl before the fame, before the world wanted a piece of her. We see her at her best. When she’s making music, winning awards, meeting and working with her idols. However, it is this same intimacy that completely repels us. We see her addicted, drugged, and beaten. We see her at her worst. And the most distressing part is that while watching the film, you realize that she is dying right before our eyes in the 128 minutes that the film runs. And with grief, you realize she was dying right before our eyes 5 years ago when the media used her as a punching bag. Once the world got a piece of her, they didn’t let go, and, unfortunately, she became a celebrity to us when all the while she was just girl; she was just Amy.