“Back to Black”: Emotional Gut Punch

I love music and there is no one who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with Amy Winehouse and what happened to her so I was incredibly curious about this movie. There was a lot I was unfamiliar with but after watching the film, I felt like I was hit with an emotional gut punch as the performances depict the incredible talent that Amy Winehouse was but also the difficulties she struggled with throughout her short life. 

“Back to Black” is a biographical drama based on the life of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and written by Matt Greenhalgh. The film, told from the point of view of Amy Winehouse (Marisa Abela), depicts her life, illustrating her musical talent, both singing and writing music. The movie shows her rise to fame as she is signed to Island Records and her tumultuous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell). The film also shows her deep connection to her Gran Cynthia (Lesly Manville), her complex relationship with her father Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and her mother Janis (Juliet Cowan). It reveals the incredible talent and genius of Amy Winehouse but also the fragility and emotional turbulence she went through in her short life.

One of the first things I’m blown away by is the accuracy in Marisa Abela’s performance. Not only does she seem a virtual twin to Amy Winehouse but Abela sings the songs performed in the film herself sounding very similar to Amy herself. The film does an amazing job of balancing out the highs and lows of Amy Winehouse’s life, showing us her deep connection with her family, her love of music and singing but her incredible talent. It shows us her fragility and vulnerability as she struggles with addiction and bulimia. The film is very forthright and honest with the struggles that Amy Winehouse dealt with and doesn’t flinch in portraying her demons. 

The movie reveals her love of her father but also how complicated their relationship could be at times, especially with the divorce from her mother. It shares her mother’s illness and Amy’s deep love for her grandmother Cynthia who also was a singer. The film also demonstrates her attitude and spunk, her tendency to be sultry and curse, to smoke and drink but also stand up for her music. The film shows us just how talented she was but also her fragility and her issues, particularly with her relationship with her husband Blake. The film does an excellent job of showing both how much they loved each other but also how terrible they could be to the other, that neither of them was perfect. The movie does not turn away from any of the emotional turbulence that Amy went through and that is what makes it so powerful to watch.

The performances are emotional and incredible in this film. Marisa Abela is brilliant, not only talking, behaving but also performing just like Amy Winehouse. Her performance is poignant, heartbreaking but an emotional gut punch because she demonstrates just how talented and incredible Amy Winehouse was and how much of a talent we lost when Amy died. Lesly Manville is excellent as Cynthia (Nan), down to earth and loving, a grounded presence in Amy’s life that she lost far too soon. Jack O’Connell is charismatic as Blake and the chemistry between the two actors is off the charts. He perfectly depicts the toxicity of their relationship but also how deeply connected they were to each other. As her father, Eddie Marsan does an excellent job of showing the complexity of the relationship between Mitch and Amy. Juliet Cowan is beautifully loving as Amy’s mother Janis. The supporting cast and the musicians in the film are equally talented and help to make the film believable and authentic. 

I did find there were times when the timeline of Amy’s life does get muddled, where it is hard to tell what year it is or how much time has passed. There are also a few scenes that are just confusing. While these help to demonstrate Amy’s mindset and what was happening to her at the time, it did pull me out of the film as I attempted to figure out what was going on. But the beautifully expressive performances, the powerful story and the incredible music help keep the film on track and make the story deeply emotional.

If you love Amy Winehouse and her music, I think you will love this drama about her life. It doesn’t flinch from facing her issues head on but also shows just how talented she was, how charismatic and passionate she was and how much of a loss she is to the music world. It shows the many layers to this iconic personality and singing icon and also the tumultuous love story at the center of her most famous album. The performances pack an emotional gut punch and the film deftly illustrates both Amy Winehouse’s talent but also her struggles. The film is emotional, powerful and heartbreaking. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 tattoos. 

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