Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

The 2006 album “Back to Black,” which serves as the inspiration for the new Amy Winehouse movie, is a work of exquisite contradiction. Winehouse’s vocal takes the growling-cat stylings of jazz greats like Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and cranks them up into something playfully feral.

The music has a crispy tasty retro-bop bounce. But if you listen closely, the lyrics are as gloomy as nightfall. The album’s standout track, “Rehab,” is undoubtedly the jauntiest song ever written about an addict who resists the urge to bury herself in alcohol by adopting a rock ‘n’ roll resistance position.

At its best, the direct and captivating film Back to Black, which is based on Winehouse’s life, takes that light/dark balance and explores its drama. The British actor Marisa Abela, whose lead performance perfectly captures Amy Winehouse’s every expression, mood, and note, is the source of the film’s enigmatic, intermittent allure in this Back to Black movie review. A barrage of criticism regarding the alleged casting mismatch has been directed towards this film on the Internet since the trailers and teasers for it were released several months ago.

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Initial Skepticism

Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

Ever since the initial images of actress Marisa Abela with winged eyeliner and a matted beehive surfaced online, admirers of the late British singer Amy Winehouse have greeted the new biopic Back to Black with ridicule, if not outright fear. 

Not only does Abela look nothing like Winehouse, but she also appears to be wearing a last-minute Halloween costume. It seemed an insufficient medium to investigate the singer, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 27 from alcohol poisoning, considering the volume of amateurish musical biopics that are being made on a regular basis. Numerous reviews have confirmed these reservations since the film’s original premiere in the UK. 

Due to her bulimia and addiction, Winehouse’s career is scarcely suitable for an entertaining popcorn film. Her narrative was never going to succeed in the genre’s limitations in this Back to Black movie review. Biopics, especially those produced by big studios, have to condense a person’s life into a manageable narrative in order to draw in the biggest audience and bring in the highest sum of money. Back to Black, despite having a R rating and a theatrical flair, is surprisingly sanitized, unable to convey the full extent of how violent and unpleasant her experience was.

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Where are the Paparazzi?

Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

Winehouse seemed oddly cut off from the media frenzy that engulfed her life in this Back to Black movie review. The story, which opens with her early adolescent songwriting days, stays concentrated on the close personal and familial relationships that would have the greatest influence on her as an artist. These relationships include her relationships with her father Mitch (Eddie Marsan), grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville), and, most importantly, her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who would serve as the inspiration for her critically acclaimed album, Back to Black

Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, two of her most well-known musical partners, are, for the most part, simply footnotes in her narrative. Aside from mentioning a few of Winehouse’s favorite soul musicians, the film doesn’t particularly care about her creative process or sources of inspiration.

Even at the peak of her fame, Winehouse spends nearly the whole film in Camden Town, London, going to see her loved ones, doing small-scale bar performances, and staggering around the neighborhood intoxicated. You would never know that Winehouse played live and in public outside of the UK, other from a really bad performance at the Glastonbury Festival. She also had a large social circle of acquaintances who were also British musicians and celebrities. 

It goes without saying that addressing the invasive, predatory treatment Winehouse endured from the media would be necessary in order to zoom out and present her as a public figure in this Back to Black movie review. She turned into more than just a joke at the height of her inebriation, as seen by her inebriated live performances, arrests, and paparazzi images of her appearing injured, unkempt, or openly using drugs.

Her physique was ridiculed by tabloids, disregarding her apparent eating condition. Comedians and other media sources kept track of the days she had left to live. Her death did not stop her from being a joke. A few months after her death, the controversial actor Neil Patrick Harris threw a Halloween party with a meat dish bearing her name and looking like a rotting corpse. 

However, in Back to Black, Winehouse’s experiences being followed by photographers or being made fun of in public are either extremely brief or conspicuously absent from the narrative. The movie features audio of comedian George Lopez revealing her 2008 Grammy nominations, but it ends before he cracks a joke to the crowd about her battle with addiction. Furthermore, the film’s infrequent portrayal of her interactions with the paparazzi does not fully capture the intrusive nature of their presence in her life, especially when she started to openly spiral out of control. 

The film’s conclusion features the most traumatic exchange she has with the media, as a paparazzo confronts the singer—who had just been sober—by inquiring about Fielder-Civil’s newborn kid with his new partner. The film presents Winehouse’s unfulfilled wish to have a child in an overly dramatic way, as though it’s a powerful symbol of virtue for the disturbed musician in this Back to Black movie review. Nevertheless, she breaks down at the first mention of her ex’s children, to the point where the movie portrays it as the catalyst for her relapse and eventual demise. 

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Cookie-Cutter Toxic Love

Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

You can know that Winehouse is a goner the instant she sees her pre-incarcerated Blake (Jack O’Connell), leaning on the bar and exuding an air of pure, unadulterated rogue charm. The final step is introducing Amy to the Shangra-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” and the whole idea of Sixties female groups. He seduces her with powerful alcohol, strong arms, and her own tunes on the jukebox.

The movie is looking for a supporting cast of villains and heroes. Back to Black essentially treats Mitch Winehouse as the only thing preventing her from oblivion, while Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary Amy, which we recommend watching as both a complement and a counterpoint to this recreation of her greatest hits-and-misses, treats him as an enabler as much as a nurturer. 

Blake Fielder-Civil receives no such mercy, unless you consider that it shows Winehouse abusing strong substances on her own to experience his emotions instead of implying that he exposed her to these vices directly in this Back to Black movie review. Not that it counts to the people who are repeating this tale. They believe that Blake is the true drug.

Given that everyone knows that Blake is harmful for Winehouse and what happens when she becomes addicted to his presence, nobody could be blamed for believing that she is under the same effect as him. However, neither they nor she can leave him in this Back to Black movie review. Her personal struggles, her yearning to become a mother, her fiery personality when defending her songs, and her insistence on emotionally inhabiting them no matter how she felt about herself are all mentioned in passing in the biography.

However, director Taylor-Johnson has said that she intended to utilize their Camden-based Bonnie-and-Clyde relationship as a prism through which to see Winehouse’s highs and lows. This is evident in O’Connell’s portrayal as the most endearing jerk in the world. 

You can almost smell the old smokes, fish and chips from yesterday, and Axe Body spray on him thanks to the actor. You get the impression from Abela as well that something about him has elevated her hormones and distorted her judgment. Even though you and she both know that trying to summon a single voice will never be able to mimic the genuine thing, her singing is still greater than anything you’ve ever heard. Amy’s giddy, infatuated emotion toward her partner? It is nailed to an almost unbelievable degree.

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The Music

Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

Work on her second album, which had to be a smash hit if it was going to make her a household name in America, was notoriously put on hold because of her need for him in this Back to Black movie review. Reluctantly, Winehouse travels to New York to start production on her upcoming album, Back to Black.

This is the point at which the narrative begins to falter when the Amy-Hearts-Blake Blues Explosion is emphasized as the main theme of her tale. The producer is absent except for a single name drop, so good luck to anyone hoping to see, say, Jason Schwartzman or Adam Brody performing their best Mark Ronson impression. (Taylor-Johnson claims that the reason he wasn’t featured is that the couple’s “toxic love story” tells you everything you need to know.) 

The title track’s recording is reduced to a montage featuring scenes from her grandmother’s funeral. You’re curious how Winehouse performed that deeply poignant song, which, more than “Rehab,” came to characterize her stunning, fatalistic, irreverent sound. Rather, you get a funeral and four short scenes in this Back to Black movie review. This seems a little strange.

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Forgiving Culpable Men

Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

The erroneous depictions of Winehouse’s father Mitch and her ex-husband Fielder-Civil, the two men who had the greatest influence on her life, present another issue with the movie. It’s difficult to see either of these individuals favorably after almost ten years of obscene interviews and attempts to capitalize on Winehouse’s legacy in this Back to Black movie review. Nevertheless, they are shown in the film as unintentional casualties in Winehouse’s destructive trajectory. As Back to Black puts it, these men weren’t intentionally enabling her illogical needs; rather, they were just attempting to satisfy them. 

These portrayals not only seem odd to anyone who is aware of their public antics (Fielder-Civil, for instance, has been charged with selling details of his and Winehouse’s romance to tabloids), but their subdued portrayals, in contrast to hers, seem to be a continuation of the same sexism she encountered in the media. 

For example, the film’s portrayal of Winehouse’s relationship with Fielder-Civil is devoid of important detail about the unsettling degree of control he had over her life. Fielder-Civil plays a significant role in the movie, but his underhanded ways of taking advantage of her vulnerability and his admission that he introduced her to heroin, crack cocaine, and self-harm are what ultimately brought her down.

He’s portrayed primarily as a sweet and sincere bad boy who experiments with dangerous drugs, which Winehouse just so happened to fall into with him. Moreover, it’s dubious that Taylor-Johnson “goes out of his way to depict Amy’s first time trying hard drugs as an occasion when she’s alone,” as Little White Lies author Rogan Graham points out.

Back to Black also doesn’t speak anything about her father’s part in Winehouse’s demise. Even though Amy’s father abandoned them when she was a child, she and Mitch had a close relationship that she honored with a “Daddy’s Girl” tattoo on her left arm. He is shown in the movie as her strongest supporter of her singing career, overly devoted, and protective of her from the other men in her life in this Back to Black movie review. Although he was all of these things for her at different times, the 2015 documentary Amy paints a more nuanced picture of their relationship. 

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Redeeming Qualities- Concluding this Back to Black Movie Review

Back To Black Movie Review
Credit: Focus Features

There are a few redeeming aspects to the movie, beginning with Amy’s bond with her adored grandma Cynthia (Lesley Manville). Even if it seems a little contrived in their early sequences, Manville and Abela’s chemistry turns out to be the most captivating in the film, and their relationship ultimately results in the most heartbreakingly realistic passages in this Back to Black movie review. The audience might have gained additional insight into Amy’s motivations, fears, and inner life if the filmmakers had probed this relationship a little more. (Her lifetime battle with bulimia is barely mentioned in this instance.)

Back to Black ultimately seems like a film for those who don’t genuinely care about Amy Winehouse. Quite often, it sounds like an animated version of how people saw the singer back when the Amy documentary was first released.

Beneath the gory beehive and eyeliner, that documentary offered her a lot more depth. With its scant depiction of Amy’s major life events and recorded output, Back to Black seems to aim to transport us back to a bygone era. For its ardent supporters, it provides little more than a depressing little journey down (far too recent) memory lane.

Maybe at this time, focusing mostly on Winehouse’s victimhood in Back to Black would have been reductive. Amy presents things in a clear and concise manner previously. Furthermore, these cultural reevaluations have in some ways become formulaic.

Nevertheless, rather than casting her as an inevitable train crash waiting to happen, shedding light on the patriarchal dynamics that contributed to her life’s derailment would at least give her fragility some perspective in this Back to Black movie review. A film that delves into the ways in which Winehouse’s bulimia and the insecurities she faced impacted her relationships and life may conceivably be more captivating. Rather, Back to Black is nothing more than the headlines of the Daily Mail.

Back to Black

2
OVERALL SCORE

PROS

  • Emotional relationship between Amy and Blake
  • Music

CONS

  • Unrealistic portrayal of Winehouse
  • Poor casting for Amy's role
  • Unlikable male characters