Early footage of a teenage Amy Winehouse has her saying, “I don’t think I want to be famous… I couldn’t handle it. I’d go mad.” This Oscar-winning documentary on the rapid rise and very public fall of the late jazz singer is told largely by the subject herself through such archival footage.
According to Tony Bennett, Amy would’ve been up there with Ella, Sarah, and Carmen. But, in the words of pal Mos Def, she was never prepared for the kind of life fame had brought her. She just wanted to sing.
The film is neither opportunistic nor analytical. Could her life have gone another way? Director Asif Kapadia (Senna) refrains from editorializing and wisely leaves that up to you.
At times during this heart-shattering, immersive film I had the oddest feeling I was in the middle of not a doc, but a horror movie. Not unlike watching a free-spirited, healthy Hobbit gradually morph into Gollum, with orcs playing the paparazzi and that laughed and taunted as they watched one of the century’s greatest musical talents go off the rails.
You want to jump out of your seat and do something to help her. (Her dad Mitch helped by bringing reality-show film crews to where she was hiding.)
A high point is the recording (her last) of a duet with the 89-year-old Bennett, her longtime idol, of “Body and Soul.”
Strangely, considering its tragic core, the film is ultimately uplifting, a poignant tribute to a rare talent just getting started. Amy sings to you. (128 min)