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  • Writer's pictureRob Ervin

Rob Reviews "Back To Black"

Sometimes, it’s a good thing to go into a narrative biopic without a ton of knowledge about its subject matter.  In a sentence that may take some of you aback, I really didn’t know much about Amy Winehouse going into Back to Black outside of what most of the world knew: an amazing throwback voice that carried a sharp edge in her songwriting in a live that was lived (and ended) tragically.  I was fully aware of the acclaimed 2015 documentary, Amy, but I didn’t end up watching it until after I saw director Amy Taylor-Johnson take on her life, written by Nowhere Boy scribe Matt Greenhalgh.  That actually turned out to be the right move.


Back to Black starts its story as Amy (Industry’s Marisa Abela) is trying to find direction in her life.  Her grandmother (Lesley Manville) is the driving force in her life, advising her to always follow her heart and dreams wherever they may lead.  After meeting producer Nick Symansky (Sam Buchanan) at a club gig, her rollercoaster ride begins in both her professional and personal lives.  This is further complicated after her first hit single is released and she meets Black (Jack O’Connell), the man who would turn her life upside down and fuel her downward spiral to the chagrin of everyone around her up until her death in the summer of 2011.


After spending time with both the narrative and documentary versions of her life, I am actually conflicted on both.  This is another of those stories that gives more of a complete picture by watching both.  By not seeing the documentary first, I could look at the narrative for the story that it is versus comparing and contrasting some of the information, which could have taken me out of it.  Abela delivers a solid performance as Winehouse, unashamed in her portrayal of the troubled tortured soul that just lived to please people to her own detriment (the scene where she wins Record of the Year for “Rehab” at the Grammys is done spot-on) while O’Connell finds the line between obsession and simple sliminess as the object of her obsession.  The ups and downs of their relationship seems more on his end than hers, but the toxicity definitely comes from both directions.  There are a couple of scenes that try to redeem Blake that given the story told in Amy gave me more questions than answers… and he isn’t the only character I felt that way about.


The biggest dichotomy in character portrayals in Back to Black comes from the incredible Eddie Marson as Amy’s father, Mitch.  Here he is portrayed as the father that just wants his daughter to love him and not rock the boat when it comes to trying to get her the help she so desperately needs while the documentary shows him to be more of a hanger-on that seems addicted to the fame (including an entire chapter of her life spent in St. Lucia where he has a documentary crew with him that is not even mentioned in the film).  Whether or not both of these instances where done with purpose or not I cannot confirm nor deny, but I am definitely intrigued by the difference in perspective.


I cannot say that Back to Black is a film that I would put at the top of my recommendation list, but if you have a good sound system at your house, the sound editing alone is worth experiencing.  Understanding that both versions I have discussed in this room tend to be looked at from a certain point of view, this is a decent watch to have more of an understanding of the triumphs and tribulations of an amazing singer/songwriter gone too soon.

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