Do you need any more evidence that the Oscars are completely out of touch with reality? Enter this year’s documentary feature winner Amy into the evidence. The Amy Winehouse feature is a 2 hour 7 minute long celebration of everything wrong in our world. Even the directors seem to miss the point of Amy’s life as they accepted the award saying – “We wanted to make a film about the real Amy, not the one in the tabloids.”
Well…mission failed. And the fact that they received an Oscar for this is just baffling when you consider the other nominees. Cartel Land tackled the issue of not just the drug running across our border but the corruption of the Mexican government. It’s a rough movie but well made and worthy of consideration. The Look of Silence is the follow up film to The Act of Killing dealing with the issues of healing and forgiveness after genocide. What Happened, Miss Simone? talks about another jazz singer who broke through the color barrier. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom was another offering from Netflix that touched on the deeper issues of our world.
Instead, the Oscar went to Amy and maybe that’s just irony getting one last laugh at the whole situation. A night that is purely about self-indulgence in the industry gives the award to the film about a self-indulgent pop star. At its core, Amy is a much-to-long, wandering celebration of an over-indulgent, extremely talented singer who never got it right in her personal life. There really is NOTHING new in the film that those tabloids didn’t cover. Her meteoric rise to fame starting at age 16? Check. Her broken, dysfunctional family? Check. Her alcohol and drug abuse? Check. Getting booed off the stage because she was so drunk she couldn’t find the microphone? Check. The constant run-ins with the paparazzi? Check. Her violent/passionate relationships with multiple partners? Check.
What did we miss?
One thing maybe. Her life was just one horrific decision after another while those who said they loved her just watched.
The film is hard to watch on multiple levels. Neither the content nor the canvas are particularly beautiful. From the start, we are given commentary from various people in Amy’s life and it doesn’t take long to notice the pattern. Every commentator is dripping with justification of their actions towards Amy. It’s both subtle and explicit and completely sickening.
Anyone who has ever had to deal with an addict will recognize the excuses. ‘It wasn’t as bad as it looked.’ ‘She had to help herself and she wouldn’t.’ ‘She really was turning a corner for the better.’ ‘I tried to help but what can you do?’ ‘She was a great person with a small problem.’
It’s disturbing how many broken and messed up relationships surrounded Amy. None of them come off particularly well in the film. None of them. Especially her father, Mitchell Winehouse.
His comment to Amy’s mother on her bulimia – “It’s a stage. It will pass.” In early 2006, Amy’s childhood friend and manager at the time Nicki had finally convinced her to enter rehab. On the way, Amy talked with her dad who infamously said – “You don’t need rehab. No. No. No. You’re just a little depressed.”
The good news was the foundation for the massive hit Rehab was born. The bad news was how obvious the father was compromised to his daughter, loving what she had (money) more than who she was. His dependence on the money train that was Amy Winehouse instead of him being a dad is the darkest cloud over this film. He ends up being just one more leech attached to Amy.
Sure, Mitchell comes across as a sincere, caring dad. He’s easy to get along with, friendly with the media and he at his core believes he is doing what is best for Amy. But he really is just another selfish, life-sucking relationship around Amy. He consistently rejected his role of Dad in favor of being part of the entourage. This is seen with crystal clarity in 2009 when Amy asked her dad to come stay with her on a secluded island while she ‘got herself together.’ She had stopped using drugs, her husband (Blake Fielder) was in jail. She’s starting to slowly start writing songs again but she wants her dad.
He shows up…with a film crew. He was trying to sell a reality tv show about being the dad of Amy Winehouse. With all the publicity around her, he really believe she needed MORE? Here was the choice in front of him – show up for Amy and be dad or show up to Amy and be a leech. Does it get any clearer? Then he breaks out the plan for a new album and tour that same trip. We expect that kind of slimy behavior out of a manager and an agent. Not out of dad.
Unfortunately, Amy had these kinds of relationship all around her at every level. Yes, they say they loved her and I’m sure they did in their own twisted, unhealthy way. But they loved the songs, tours, and records more. It’s astonishing how so few people in Amy’s life fought FOR her.
Frame by frame, there are no surprises as it marches on to its inevitable conclusion.
What does explode off the screen is her voice. That raspy, bold, deep, haunting voice and in this one instance the filmmakers get it right. There are moments where they just let Amy sing. They creatively put the lyrics on the screen but they just let that voice have center stage. Not just snippets or out-takes but entire songs. It’s in these moments where you can see perhaps the Amy the filmmakers wanted us to see. The fun, cute, infectious smile Amy. The ‘light up the night’ Amy.
Amy’s voice stands out so much more in our time of cookie-cutter, boy-band hit-machine garbage that is getting cranked out today. She was the ultimate jazz singer, that voice could cut through a room full of smoke and haze.
And it’s that voice that the world will miss and eventually will conclude – she didn’t sing enough songs.
Amy is rated R for language and adult content and drug/alcohol use. For fans of Amy Winehouse, I’m sure this is must-watch but for the rest of us the content doesn’t match the attention this film is getting. It’s not well-shot. It’s not well-edited. Most of the shots are out of focus, grainy, and dark. Whatever content new interviews after her death add is a mystery. There are no regrets, no insights, no remorse. Just sadness that the party has ended.
And that might just be the bigger tragedy in all of this – nobody seems to get that while Amy did indeed fail herself, her community failed her as well.