One of the more amazing things about Amy, Asif Kapadia’s tragic and sad documentary about the late singer Amy Winehouse, is just how much footage of Winehouse there was. Today we can all shoot video on the fly with smartphones, but Amy begins in 2001, when Winehouse was only eighteen. Much of this early footage feels like it was shot yesterday, capturing a young, energetic singer who still hadn’t refined her craft but was quickly emerging as a force of nature in jazz music. Though Kapadia assembles an array of friends, family, and musicians, the bulk of this story is told by Amy herself through audio and video. Much of it represents missed opportunities and calls for help from someone in dire need of it.
Winehouse displayed symptoms of addiction early on, and a pivotal scene depicts her family, with Winehouse on the verge of stardom, trying to decide whether to get her into rehab before she became a household name. Her father, Mitch, who has taken issue with his depiction in the film, opts not to. The latter stages of Amy’s young life were spent as a far gone addict, often the subject of late night comedians (those scenes are nothing short of cringeworthy now knowing what was really happening) and public ridicule. Everyone in her inner circle just wanted her to get better so she could get back on the road. The specifics of how that could happen escaped those who had a vested interest in her success.
For all its sadness and despair, Amy features stunning video of an effortlessly talented voice and stage presence. A duet with Tony Bennett is an absolute treat, and Bennett himself believes Winehouse deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the all-time jazz greats. The film is simultaneously a celebration of all she accomplished in her short life as well as a cautionary tale about the seriousness and grave price to be paid for not getting an addict the help they need. It’s a potent combination, making for one of the year’s best documentaries.
Length: 128 Minutes
Rating: R for language and drug material.
Theatrical Release: July 3, 2015
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
Cast: Amy Winehouse, Yasiin Bey, Tony Bennett, Mark Ronson, Pete Doherty