BACK TO BLACK

BACK TO BLACK

(director: Sam Taylor-Johnson; screenwriter: Matt Greenhalgh; cinematographer: Polly Morgan; editors: Martin Walsh, Laurence Johnson; music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis; cast: Marisa Abela (Amy Winehouse), Eddie Marsan (Mitch Winehouse, cabbie father), Lesley Manville (Cynthia, grandmother), Juliet Cowan (Janis, mother), Jack O’Connell (Blake Fielder-Civil, husband), Sam Buchanan (Nick Shymansky), Harley Bird (Juliette), Ansu Kavia (Raye), Therica Wilson-Read (Perfume Paul), Bronson Webb (Joey the Dealer); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Nicky Kentish Barnes, Debra Hayward, Alison Owen; Monumental Pictures, StudioCanal/Focus Features; 2024-France/UK/USA)

“Tries to look beyond the tabloids but can’t.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The music biopic tries to look beyond the tabloids but can’t, and though at times is affecting it never fully is. It tells us about the edgy singer Amy Winehouse (Marisa Abela) and her early rise to stardom (with her first album Frank (2003), that’s heavy into jazz, becoming a major hit and that after a bad marriage in 2007 to the drug-addict Blake (Jack O’Connell) and divorce in 2009, she became a self-destructing drug addict. She died from alcohol poisoning at age 27, in 2011.

The talented English singer, known for her beehive haircut, comes from a Jewish working-class family, whose doting dad worked as a cabbie and is divorced from her pharmacist mom (Juliet Cowan), who was diagnosed in 2003 with multiple sclerosis. Amy lived with her mom in a cramped apartment in the Camden district of London. We learn that Amy always looked up to her grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville), a former club jazz singer, who helped with her career moves.

A better and more informative film about her is the 2015 documentary, Amy.


In Back to Black, we learn that Amy lived through her emotional extremes, had a big fan following and was a fierce woman who changed the way women looked at men.

The film is named after the singer’s groundbreaking and best-selling 2006 album, that had on it the dark jazzy song of the year “Rehab.”

It’s directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”/”Fifty Shades of Grey”) and written by Matt Greenhalgh. I found it a pointless film that will probably not please many of the singer’s fans, many movie critics or maybe not even the casual movie-goer. I say this even if I believe Marisa Abela plays the challenging role of the singer astonishingly well, in a role where she brilliantly captures Amy’s furtive sexual moves onstage, her tough attitude, gets into both her fragility and boldness, and ably displays her intelligence.

Though a lengthy film, there’s still not enough to uncover what makes Amy tick, or not a deep enough story to fill us in on her
dysfunctional life.

REVIEWED ON 5/15/2024  GRADE: C+