Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Amy Winehouse's brief, wild life

   Amy Winehouse may not have lived long enough for her considerable talent to mature. She was 27 when she died from alcohol poisoning in 2011. Her early demise makes Winehouse a problematic subject for a biographical movie. 
   Fair to say, Winehouse's life had only one act -- albeit a wild one.
   In some respects, Winehouse revivified a rock n’ roll cliche — lacing her stardom with an unholy triumvirate: sex, drugs, and alcohol. Her inspirations derived from sources as diverse as rapper Lauryn Hill and singer Sarah Vaughan. She didn’t want to be pinned to anyone's genre bulletin board.
   Defined by uncompromising independence and a powerful voice, Winehouse blazed bright; she was nominated for eight Grammys and won six of them. 
   Back to Black tells Winehouse’s story, serving it in jagged chunks that seem appropriate for a singer/songwriter whose Rehab can be read as an anthem of spirited defiance. 
   “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, ‘No. No. No.’”
  The movie’s title — taken from Winehouse’s 2006 album of the same name — suggests dark currents. Winehouse’s journey toward oblivion centers on a startling and dynamic performance from Marisa Abela, who sings the movie’s musical numbers. No lip-synching here. 
   In this telling, Winehouse draws inspiration and affection from her grandmother, Nan Cynthia (Lesley Manville), a nightclub singer who functions as a mentor to Winehouse, a Jewish girl from North London who's often shown wearing a conspicuously displayed Star of David.
   Winehouse also receives support from her dad (Eddie Marsan), a dedicated father who tries to keep Winehouse on track, no easy job considering Winehouse went to great lengths to prove she was no Spice Girl pop star.  As is frequently the case with headstrong rebels, Winehouse clashed with those who wanted to shape her career.
  Much of the movie centers on Winehouse’s heated but disastrous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell). Blake charts his own course through the world of drugs.
   Credit O’Connell with generating the bad-boy charm that Winehouse found irresistible. Put it this way: Their relationship wasn’t the stuff of rom-coms.
     I can’t say “no no no” to Back to Black, probably because I’m too much of a sucker for courageously immersive performances, and Abela certainly gives one. But director Sam Taylor-Johnson, working from an episodic screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, creates a movie that often feels so scattershot and confrontational you may want to push it away.
     By the end, that's what I found myself doing.

No comments: