AMY: 4 STARS. “didn’t live long enough to learn how to live.”
Near the end of “Amy,” the heartbreaking doc on the life and career of singer Amy Winehouse, Tony Bennett says, “Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough.” Dead at age 27, Winehouse never mastered the art of living a life as director Asif Kapadia carefully recounts in this heartbreaking film.
Home movies reveal Amy Winehouse to be a precocious teenager. Charismatic and a bit of a show off, she also possessed a sultry voice that was old and wise beyond the singer’s years. On her song writing one record executive said she had the lyrical and melodic quality of a very old soul in an 18-year-old body. Using music as a remedy for her gripping depression, she wrote personal songs that laid her life bare. Critical success came quickly and along with it comparisons to Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
After the release of her first album Frank, a bad break up threw her into a spiral of alcohol abuse. Refusing to go to rehab—allegedly on the advice of her father—gave her a huge hit—“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, ‘No, no, no.’”—and a career as a headliner but may also have been the last chance to get right before the world got hold of her.
When fame arrived–“I don’t think I could handle it [fame],” she said. “I’d go mad.”—it was a tsunami of adulation, sold out concerts, drugs, booze and destructive relationships.
“Amy” plays on a few levels. It’s a cautionary tale of the effects of international stardom. It’s a portrait of drug addiction and it’s the story of an exploited artist caught up in whirlwind of commitments and contracts. (It must be noted that Winehouse’s father Mitch strongly disagrees with the way the film portrays both him and the final years of Amy’s life.) It’s an account of a woman who looked to men for protection, and chose badly. It’s the story of Amy, a fiercely talented person who laid her heart bare in her art only to have the thing that should have been her saviour, her music, ultimately be her undoing.
Whether you were a fan or not, the documentary is a heartbreaking journey from her early days in North London, curvy and full-of-life, to stumbling, blank-faced around a stage in Belgrade, emaciated and strung out. Kapadia has assembled most of the key players to tell the story but also, very effectively, uses Winehouse’s autobiographical lyrics to fill in the blanks.
“Amy” is a lot of things, but mostly it’s a portrait of a vulnerable woman who didn’t live long enough to learn how to live.