Amy **

Documentary about Amy Winehouse is an insightful cautionary tale for her fans only.

Is it worth $10? No

All I knew about the late Amy Winehouse going into “Amy” was that she was a soulful singer with substance abuse problems and beehive hair who once ironically had a hit song called “Rehab.” What I learned while watching “Amy,” a documentary about her life and career from director Asif Kapadia (“Senna”), is that she never wanted to be famous and had terrible taste in men. This doesn’t give much reason to recommend the film to anyone who isn’t already an Amy Winehouse fan. 

Worse, at 128 minutes the film is far too repetitive, seemingly dwelling on her unhappiness as a way of inflicting a similar emotion on its audience. If there’s one thing you leave “Amy” with, it’s a morose feeling of gratitude that you’re not Amy Winehouse.

Who was she? Where did she come from? What were her friends and family like? What inspired her? All are answered, and throughout I struggled for a reason to care. Surely someone who’d been so popular would have some fascinating characteristics, but as rendered in this doc Amy is one-dimensional: All she wants to do is write and sing, she couldn’t handle fame, her personal life was a mess, and she abused various substances. That’s the entire movie, with those four elements repeated ad nauseam. 

When asked after she signed her first record deal if she thinks she’ll be famous, Amy responds, “I don’t think I could handle it – I’d probably go mad.” History suggests these foreboding words were at least partially true, making Amy Winehouse and “Amy” a cautionary tale for all current and future celebrities. But Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and other musicians have already taught this lesson. How many people it’s saved is unknown, but what makes Winehouse’s story especially sad is that she was aware of her demons and couldn’t control them (she was also bulimic and on anti-depressants starting when she was a teenager). That’s the most dangerous part about addiction: It cannot be controlled without help, and Amy could never get enough help to make a difference, largely because two of the people closest to her – her father Mitchell and boyfriend/husband Blake – were more avaricious than loving.

Perhaps, deep down, she didn’t want help. Her best writing came when she was intoxicated, and the recognition and money she received for her work became validation and acceptance for a shy girl from North London who never aspired to amount to anything. Thus she’s caught in a vicious circle of success and substance abuse, all the while lacking the sense of self needed to move beyond her lot in life to a better, safer place of happiness.

For perspective, Kapadia includes interviews with Amy’s friends, family and professional counterparts, as well as Amy herself. As they lend insight into her youth, family life, desires and more, you quickly realize she’s an impulsive personality with a proclivity to addictive behavior, a dangerous mix for someone who has more money than she can imagine. Worse, due in part to the abandonment issues she faced after her father left her and her mother for another woman when Amy was 18 months, Amy repeatedly makes terrible decisions regarding men, especially Blake Fielder-Civil, who openly mooches her money and keeps her addicted to various drugs, including heroin. As depicted by Kapadia, he’s a scumbag loser who was the worst thing to ever happen to Amy, yet she loved him more than she ever did anyone or anything else. He also was the fuel to some of her best work, specifically the “Black To Black” album, which prompted her to be reminded of him every time she hit the stage. To say she had self-defeating tendencies would be an understatement.

Fans of Amy Winehouse will likely want to see her in intimate private moments, archival video footage, and the previously unreleased music that’s included in “Amy.” But if you’re not familiar with her work and career it’s hard to imagine someone being intrigued by her journey, as it’s full of little besides despair.

Did you know?
Winehouse’s blood-alcohol level was five times above the legal limit when she died of alcohol poisoning in July 2011.

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