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REVIEW: ‘Back To Black’ – Amy Winehouse´s new biopic

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Back to Black, the biopic about Amy Winehouse was released this year. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and produced by StudioCanal UK and Monumental Pictures, with a script by Matt Greenhalgh, the movie is a work that offers a deep and intimate look at the creation of one of the British singer’s most iconic albums, “Back to Black”. This film not only celebrates Winehouse’s music, but also sheds light on her personal life and the challenges she faced while making the album. But, the most important question… Was it worth watching this production?

In several interviews, director Sam Taylor-Johnson has emphasized that her film, “Back to Black”, aims to present Amy Winehouse’s story from her own point of view. It’s unclear that this is a subtle criticism of “Amy” Asif Kapadia’s award-winning 2015 documentary, that incorporated several archival interviews, including some that portrayed Winehouse in a negative light, along with her family and friends. The documentary aimed to establish that everyone shared responsibility for the singer’s tragic passing. In a somewhat grotesque way, “Back to Black” strives to tell the story the way she would have done it before the years of alcohol poisoning and drugs. 

The directors and producers of this biopic, the hope was to show a critique of the 2015 documentary, something they did not hide at any time before, during and after the film release. But they couldn’t please all their fans. In comments on the internet, fans show their anger at Amy’s new biopic, here is an example: 

“I watched the film, and we are immersed into the world of Amy Winehouse. There are several parts that, if we don’t pay attention, we won’t understand. So, before watching, it’s good to watch the documentary “Amy” (2015). Other than that, the passage of time is very fast and at several points in the film it becomes meaningless. Amy’s back and forth with Blake also becomes meaningless during the film, and out of nowhere there is Amy on a stage. Some parts are forced to provide the subject of the film, but I understand that all biopics are like that. That’s why I don’t like biopics so much. We’re talking about a person’s story and, of course, not everything can fit into a film. I confess that I have been looking forward to watching this film since 2023. I even liked it, but I didn’t think it was all that, honestly, Amy is bigger than that film” – Ismael Lopes, on the website AdoroCinema

my perspective

“Back to Black” is engaging in terms of story, but it is far from respectful. The film maintains a tone of facts that is simultaneously celebratory and melancholic. The editing of scenes is quick, which ends up skillfully balancing the personal narrative with the singer’s professional trajectory. But, if the objective of the film was to show the entire story from Amy Winehouse’s point of view, I can safely say that it was a total failure. While “Back to Black” has its moments of brilliance, like Marisa Abela’s captivating portrayal of Winehouse, which is at times devoted and disconcerting, there are also some disturbing aspects. Certain sequences, such as the long and intense encounter between Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil (played by Jack O’Connell) in a pub, successfully captured the deeply toxic relationship that served as inspiration for the album. Unfortunately, there are rare instances throughout the film in which we witness the creation process of Winehouse’s songs, which typically serve as the highlight of any biopic about a musician. 

The opening of “Back to Black” showcases Winehouse’s desire for her audience to simply listen to her music and temporarily escape their own problems, while also gaining a true understanding of her as an individual. The narrative then delves into his early performances in local Camden pubs, exploring her relationships with friends and romantic partners, which were not always harmonious. However, everything takes a drastic turn when she crosses paths with Fielder-Civil, leading to a downward spiral. As a result of his influence, Winehouse, who has always been a heavy drinker, gradually develops addictions to various substances. This tumultuous period inspires her to channel her anger into creating the album “Back to Black”. Unfortunately, when Fielder-Civil re-enters his life, things only get worse. 

However, if it was just that, me as a fan would be able to understand, but the facts of the real Winehouse’s life and struggles are impossible to ignore, and some choices by screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh seemed to rewrite her story without consent, just to bring the public’s audience, which also didn’t work. An example? Fielder-Civil, for example, has said in many interviews that he was responsible for Winehouse’s first encounter with the heroine, but in “Back to Black” she starts using drugs all by herself and the drug addiction intensified by her love relationship is barely shown. There were several moments when the story aimed to show that the singer needed Fielder-Civil to educate her.

When it comes to Amy’s father Mith Winehouse (Eddie Marsan), he seems to have a very lovely and harmonious relationship with his daughter in the movie. “Back to Black” portrays him as a kind man who cared about his daughter’s well-being. The most damning line about him in Winehouse’s lyrics appears in her most famous song, “Rehab” in which she sings “my father thinks I’m fine” as a justification for avoiding rehab — a line based entirely in reality. In one scene from the film, Mitch states that she doesn’t need to go to rehab. We never see her sing the song until the night she wins the Grammy, after having been gone to rehab, and then the line just elicits a sad laugh from him.

However, reality also suggests questionable action on his part — as when he showed up in St. Lucia, where his daughter was recovering, with a film production team to make a Channel 4 documentary titled “My Daughter Amy”. This is not represented in “Back to Black” although it is also part of Winehouse’s story. Taking artistic license, “Back to Black” is far from the first biopic as it softens the edges of real people going through a treatment. But since the film’s stated goal is to re-center Amy in her own story, it feels wrong. Mixing and rearranging facts is common in biographical films, for better or worse. It is normally necessary to summarize someone’s life just to fit into a two-hour feature film, but the most important facts cannot be hidden.

CONCLUSION: Understanding or sadness?

Even with the strange omissions in Amy’s story and plenty of fan speculation, changing the direction of stories to please fans turns biographies into cinematic fairy tales, distorting the truth for the sake of entertainment. But as the stated objective of the film is to refocus Amy on her own story, it seems to be a waste of time… There were many moments that we don’t know if they really happened or not.

If I could, I would watch the film again just with a notebook to write down all the observations of nonsensical things that I found, even though I loved it with all my heart, it made me upset that it ended up being like this

Here’s what happened: A vibrant, dynamic and abundantly talented woman, whose life was marked by her musical genius and captivating personality, ended up at the center of a film where her story, once again, is not connected to its true essence. Winehouse, who was an extraordinary artist and a complex person, is portrayed in a way that manipulates the facts to favor the men who undoubtedly exploited her image and talent in life. Her true strength and authenticity are overshadowed by a narrative that does not do her legacy justice.

Winehouse may one day receive a biographical production that she truly deserves, one that celebrates her incredible contribution to music and recognizes her personal struggle with sensitivity and respect. But it is questionable whether this type of representation is even necessary. During her life, she demonstrated an unparalleled ability to tell her own story through her art. And then we have the album she called “Back to Black”, an eternal testament to her cultural impact.

“I know it will hurt. But sometimes, in life, we need to do the right thing. I only write about things that happened to me… things I can’t get over. Luckily, I’m self-destructive”.

Amy Winehouse

The article above was edited by Larissa Buzon.

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