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Movie Review: #Amy

The undeniable voice and tragic end of Amy shed an uncompromising light.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director Asif Kapadia's documentary Amy, we learn how fame, fortune, and deep-seeded family problems extinguished the bright light that was Singer Amy Winehouse. The Brit was far more than her #1 topper Rehab, her sultry voice turning young heads and even encouraging veterans like Tony Bennett to record with her. But beneath the paparazzi, long eye shadow, and hair extensions was a troubled woman whose problems started early and were ignored by her family until it was too late.

Tracing her early life through home movies and on-the-road videos, we learn how Winehouse quickly rose from her North London borough to the heights of popularity. We're there when she takes home a handful of Grammys, but we also see the signs that will eventually undo her: an absent father, an enabling mother, and a husband with addiction problems of his own. Like a blended drink, Winehouse soon becomes ensconced in a series of failed rehabs and crushing paparazzi that she cannot control.

Amy doesn't expose any new or blockbuster reveals but it clearly points to her family - father Martin and mother Janis - whose lack of discipline in her early years set her down a self-destructive path. Kapadia makes a convincing case. The signs were certainly there, and by stitching together voices and random camera captures we get a much clearer picture of where the troubles began. That is the strength behind Amy: to hear it from those who witnessed her incredible rise and tragic fall, from friend/former manager Nick Shymansky to longtime friend Lauren Gilbert. Considering how the opportunistic father has responded, it sounds like Kapadia might have hit the mark.

Amy also shows the feeding frenzy of greed behind popular music and how ill-equipped the 27-year-old was to handle the problems that both her promoter Raye Cosbert and former husband/addict Blake Fielder made worse. To see the transformation she underwent in the final act is stunning, as she battled not only alcohol and drugs but bulimia. It demonstrates how celebrities try to cover their problems with fortune and vice, while others take advantage without seeing the problems or refusing to act. Using a satisfying mix of video and interviews, Kapadia shows the opportunistic Mitch as he uses Amy's fame to chart his own path with a tell-all TV series during a vacation, when all she wanted was her father.

Not all is perfect with Kapadia's portrayal, as he glosses over Amy's assault charges and whipsaws between Amy's bouts with rehab and being clean. It's a problem with the genre in general, taking too long to focus on the early history before flying at warp speed to wrap up the story. What is clear is that Winehouse's alcohol poisoning in 2011 ended an unfulfilled career that some saw as trend-setting for current pop music.

Amy is a stirring and poignant warning to everyone about keeping the business of your life as close to the chest as possible, and how influences both inside and out of your personal circles can create pain and suffering when greed gets involved. It's a good lesson for children to experience as well, although parents should be warned about the drug use that's displayed. I hope we'll see this recognized during February's Oscars, although I suspect the parents will fight its inclusion.

Amy is Rated R for language and drug material and has a runtime of 128 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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