When the late jazz singer Amy Winehouse’s voice rings through theaters this summer, for a moment, she’s alive.
Director Asif Kapadia’s “Amy,” released Friday, presents audiences with more than 100 interviews, performances and clips of home footage, painting a nearly complete portrait of the complex singer’s troubled life.
Unlike Winehouse, the film’s formula isn’t groundbreaking. Although its structure is simple, the film lends her story an honesty and compassion she rarely received during her life.
Early footage and childhood pictures show audiences a young Winehouse, extremely driven by her music. Kapadia makes sure not to gloss over these moments, including information about her first struggles with depression, which worsened with her rise to fame.
It wasn’t until her second album, Back to Black, when Winehouse became an international sensation. Suddenly, she had been thrown into the spotlight, and media attention became unrelenting and unkind.
Kapadia explores this throughout the film, interspersing news clips with personal testimonies from friends and Amy herself. These intimate interviews humanize Winehouse and delve into her depression, addiction and bulimia with a more understanding eye.
The film refrains from revolving around its obvious darkness. In one interview, Winehouse explains that her songs were never completely sad, opting to throw in punch lines wherever she could. The film mirrors her music, including film of Winehouse’s biting humor that Kapadia said he only discovered after poring over hours of footage.
Kapadia never knew Winehouse but was curious to learn everything he could. With his distance, the film’s point of view feels neutral and doesn’t force any single idea of Winehouse onto the audience.
Although the film has many narrators, Winehouse’s voice reigns over them. Through her songs and handwritten lyrics, Winehouse steps in where her friends and family could not. In her own words, audiences see Winehouse attempt to work through her parent’s divorce and her tumultuous relationships.
When placed in the context of her struggles, the songs transform, leaving the audience feeling as though they’re hearing them for the first time. Without Winehouse’s songs, the film’s narrative would be incomplete.
The film could have many villains — Amy’s parents, her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil or Amy herself. Recently, Winehouse’s parents, Mitch and Janis, withdrew their support of the film, accusing Kapadia of suggesting they didn’t do enough to help their daughter. But Kapadia generally shies away from blaming just one person for Winehouse’s death, letting the footage speak for itself.
Toward the end of the film, Winehouse spirals out of control one final time, unable to connect to the songs she had written years before. By this time, the audience has fallen for Winehouse, making it all that more difficult to accept her untimely end in 2011.
Ultimately, “Amy” is a love story. Whether it was for her music or the people that surrounded her, Winehouse’s passion was caustic and all-consuming. The film gives weight to those emotions, challenging her tabloid legacy and showcasing her as a genuine person and dedicated musician.
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 128