'Back to Black' chronicles the life and music of Amy Winehouse

New biopic now in theaters nationwide
"Back to Black" Special Event
"Back to Black" Special Event / Gonzalo Marroquin/GettyImages

Amy Winehouse was a talented singer whose star burned brightly—but only for a short period. The singer won multiple Grammy awards before turning 25 and yet battled personal demons that saw her life cut short.

The new film, Back to Black, seeks to examine Winehouse’s story now 13 years after her death at the age of 27. The film, from director Sam Taylor-Johnson, focuses on a few key years in Winehouse’s life and career, starting when she was just 18 years old. In the film, actress Marisa Abela takes on the task of bringing Amy’s life and music to the big screen, even singing her signature numbers.

The film opened wide on May 17 and chronicles the singer’s rise to fame, her struggles with substance abuse and her relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell), which came to define so much of her music and adult life. It’s an interesting examination of a singer whose music continues to entertain and captivate audiences.

Is Back to Black worth watching?

But is it worth checking out? Sadly, it doesn’t live up to the hype.

Whether as a result of the script—from Matt Greenhalgh—or the creative direction Taylor-Johnson chose to take the material, this has a very awkward and narrow focus. It chooses to, mostly, focus on Winehouse’s relationship with Blake. It also shows events in her life wildly out of sequence, which gives an awkward impression of her journey.

The film doesn’t offer much new insight into Winehouse and her struggles. It also doesn’t provide much of a window into the creative process, which is something that is often an integral part of good musical biopics. It seems to offer a suggestion of why Winehouse struggled with substances that is at odds with other accounts of her life, particularly the strong 2015 documentary Amy, which is streaming on Max.

That’s not to say that there aren’t strong moments. I liked the costuming and the production design here, which seeks to capture Winehouse’s unique look and style. Abela gives a strong performance and is often the best part of the film. It’s an interesting choice to not use Winehouse’s actual vocals, but some of the musical sequences work well. The filmmaker also used Winehouse’s actual band and backup singers, which helps with the authenticity.

In the end, this is a biopic that falls short. We’ve seen several biopics of famous musicians in recent years, often with diminishing returns. Winehouse was an outsized musical talent who had a very troubled personal history. This film does little to capture or expand on that legacy. It’s fine, but Winehouse deserved better.

Back to Black is now playing nationwide.

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