The movie begins with home movie visuals of Amy singing happy birthday to her best friend. Actually, everyone was singing happy birthday to her friend, Lauren Gilbert (who features heavily through the course of the movie) and when Amy joins in, her voice is so captivating, everyone just shuts up and lets her sing. This is symbolic of who she eventually grows up to be -the cheeky girl with the big personality whose voice made her stand out.
This movie was so great that it really took me some time to figure out how to write this and express how good it was. So many things made it great and I greatly doff my heart to director, Asif Kapadia for so deftly handling this movie and making us feel like Amy was a personal friend. In my review for Netflix doc, “What happened, Miss Simone?”, I mentioned how it felt authentic because it used actual footage and recordings of Nina Simone. The same was done here. There was no narrator. Actually if I had to pick, Amy herself was the narrator as Kapadia crafted her interviews and words in the background guiding us through this whirlwind of a life.
Usually, documentaries have these interviews with people and they give their version of the subject matter. In this movie, we never get to see anyone being interviewed (save for one with Questlove and I wondered why the mold was broken for him, although it looked like a tv clip) instead what is done is we get a time stamp and location for each scene and a caption letting us know whose voice we are listening to. Every now and then and always at the right time, Kapadia shows us a clip of Amy performing or recording with the lyrics emblazoned across the screen. What completes this whole set up is the insane amount of home videos and recordings of Amy’s life. Her ex manager and friend, Nick Shymansky who met her when he was 19 and she, 16 used to record all the time in the early days.
I’d say the movie was divided in 3 parts:
Part 1- When Amy was still a fresh faced young girl – I should rephrase because it gives the illusion of a carefree young girl but she admits she was never the same from age 9 when her parents split and she became rebellious and suffered from depression. She was just a young girl who had plenty love for jazz and music.
Part 2 – When she gets a record deal and the aftermath of her debut album, “Frank”. When asked if she expects to be famous she doesn’t think she will especially since her music isn’t for the masses and she can’t even be famous because she wouldn’t be able to handle it. We see her do promo, getting lost in her songs and generally just having a good time.
Part 3 – The most difficult to watch because this is the beginning of her spiral when she meets her eventual husband, Blake Civil, we see her dad choosing money and fame over his daughter’s health, her massive weight loss, loss of friends and her embarrassments as she reached eventual stardom with her “Back to Black” album. This was the most difficult to watch because you know the eventual outcome. You watch and wonder why noone did anything drastic to save her.
Overall this was such a great, great watch. I was reminded of how great a singer she was, that voice – so pure, so raw. I re-appreciated her song writing as I reheard her lyrics. I personally don’t know how her dad gets to sleep at night because as far as I am concerned, he dropped the ball as a parent in trying to get her well(same goes for her husband, Blake Civil). And that’s something else the film didn’t do, it didn’t heavily choose sides. It simply just laid out facts and gives you the viewer the choice to pick.
We get to see Amy Winehouse as a human being not just as paparazzi fodder. We see her wrestling her demons fueled by wanting the love of her dad and being raised in a world where she didn’t hear a lot of no’s. It’s sad to see that she lost the battle with the demons but if nothing else, this movie was a perfect tribute to a star we lost too soon.