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  • Writer's pictureRob Ervin

Alex Reviews "Back To Black"

People naturally prop special individuals on pedestals as examples of human potential. It doesn’t matter if it is athletics, aesthetics, or audible exceptionalism. People love being entertained and highlighting positives. Unfortunately, others love to tear down idols just as much as those who worship them. Back to Black does an interesting trick in both of those directions, but not in the way you likely anticipate.


Following the career of a generational talent through her discovery, successes, and struggles, Back to Black tells the story of Amy Winehouse, her amazing voice, unique style, and her untimely death. All through the lens of a character study that feels intended to highlight the humanity of an otherwise unknown private life…beyond her ultra personal songs.


Hoping to recapture the magic of the John Lennon-based film Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Matthew Greenhalgh reunite as director and writer but do literally nothing to make Amy Winehouse’s life worthy of the big screen. Almost every shot of the film is tight to the point of claustrophobic and felt amateurish beyond set budgeting. The story does what I hope was the opposite of intention. To put it bluntly, I love Amy Winehouse’s music and the story is so bad that it made me like her work less. I would cover examples, but there’s a balance of spoilers and the fact that this should absolutely not be seen or known.


For all the movie does terrible, the cast attempts the impossible of carrying the film across the finish line with some amazing performances.


Marisa Abela absolutely destroys as Winehouse, and I really wish her portrayal was not wasted with this material. Between her own incredible singing in the picture and the larger-than-life emotions befitting such a tumultuous character, I desperately hope she gets a big role in another picture soon. One where her excellent work can be met with a project at least near her talents. Steven Soderbergh, I’m looking at you!


Pairing with her, Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) and Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan) perfectly counterpoint Abela as Amy Winehouse’s greatest male influences, lover and father, respectively. O’Connell is the walking embodiment of the bad boy you can’t help except to find roguishly charming. It almost harkens back to Lady and the Tramp, if you add a lot more drugs and the picture made you dislike both of title characters. Marsan will always be a “glue” actor who can turn on the chops to elevate anyone and anything around him. Based on his talent alone, it would have been a far more interesting story to tell from his perspective as a father desperate to help his daughter be the best version of herself away from the limelight. Give me that story and it might have the heart that Winehouse’s talent deserved.


In no way can I recommend seeing Back to Black at the cost of a theater ticket when there are a near infinite number of better options. The best option to me would be to relax at home. Put on Winehouse’s discography. Feel the emotions she boldly put to record. Then, after enjoying the best versions of her, go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation and find ways you can help those in need.

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