Amy tells a tragic tale, in what amounts to an enthralling documentary that does an exceptional job in humanizing the artist. It’s a challenge, because of the disconnect between the public persona and the human being, ever-widening when a musician, actor or any other individual with a modicum of fame goes “global”. Personally, I rarely thought of Amy Winehouse, as I had heard little of her music and related more to the tabloid facts that swamped the internet. So the movie’s effect on me was powerful in revealing a passionate artist who lost her way between the lights and flashes.
Her story is relayed to us through a number of homemade clips and films, shot by friends or acquaintances. It takes the viewer to her earlier days as an artist, where the entourage is not an entourage in its hyped sense, but just a circle of friends. From there, the seemingly small steps towards worldwide fame are contorted and unreadable. Because the film is a composition of private videos, it creates a familiar and intimate experience and tears down the sense of artificiality often inherent to biopics which jump between the now and the then. It becomes impossible not to get involved emotionally and empathize without feeling as if you’re being manipulated to do so.
The film is powerful because it knows how to construct and frame all the public fragments that made up Amy Winehouse from within, so to say – by transcending from her personal experiences. Sure, there’s a touch of the banal in the story, a been there, seen that kind of feeling. But it is this banality that actually makes for a powerful tragedy, the mesh of strange personal networks, personal quirks and public politics that shaped Amy’s life and fate. Once you go beyond the narrative, it’s unlikely not to be touched by how hard it all hit the bubbly girl from London.
My main critique to the film is that, similar to his work on Senna, the director puts Amy on a pedestal: she appears trapped by her social circles, the people trying to control her, her own addiction, but it looks mostly inflicted upon her than anything else. This deterministic approach, while surely pertinent and enhancing the sense of tragic, undermines the idea that Winehouse was a powerful artist, something that comes across through her music. The paradox is part of the core artistic choices made by Kapadia, a token from how much intimacy is imbued in the documentary.
As such, it is wise to look at Amy as something else than an exercise in exploring the downwards spiral of addiction. It does her right as a musician and duly criticizes the destructive power of parts of the media that catalyzed all her insecurities, her troubled family life and her relationships. It brings her closer to her fans and the audience, and provides ample food for thought about how sweet and sour and short life can be.
Originally published on imdb.