Yesterday, I caught a matinee showing of AMY at one of the 3 theaters in Austin showing the film. I left the movie theater with mixed feelings and a lot to say. So, here’s my review…
I relished in the opportunity to remember Amy Winehouse and re-live my awe of her talent. The film offered me a few opportunities to do that. I applaud the way her songs were woven into the documentary, both as revelations of their original context and as devices for retrospective storytelling. I was delighted to hear her most memorable songs and hear them in a way that helped me understand parts of her life that I had not understood while these same songs were climbing the charts several years ago.
Beyond that, I was pretty disappointed.
The narrative arc of the film seemed shallow, short-sighted, and hasty to get to the more unsavory and tragic aspects of her life. The story begins in her late teen years, pedals quickly to her problems and brakes just before the body bag. Nothing of her childhood, her family life, her as a person apart from the stardom. It was a woefully one-dimensional portrayal. I found the film creepily voyeuristic with its patchwork of personal video footage haphazardly strung together without much discretion or artistry. Many frames were spent panning across still shots of Amy at her worst, making her a spectacle–even now–in much the same way popular media did while she was still alive.
To be clear, I think that Amy’s dark side and her struggles are an important part of her story. Any film about her would be remiss to leave that out. That aspect of her story should be told honestly and tactfully. It is, after all, why we lost her much too soon. But the tragedy of her death is now compounded by a film that failed to communicate just how brilliant she really was. Here was a true jazz artist, an effortless technician, and a lyrical heavyweight who left indelible marks on music…and so little airtime was given to the gravity and impact of her talent.
I don’t know if the few bright spots in the movie are worth bearing the many shallow, shoddy, and shocking parts, but I hope those bright spots remind viewers of her stunning talent and her raw humanity.